The Social Media Mess – Some Good News and Some Bad News
Are Teenagers Replacing Drugs With Smartphones?

There is a whole lot to wonder here in this article from the New York Times, dated March 17, 2017, entitled “Are Teenagers Replacing Drugs With Smartphones?”  

“Amid an opioid epidemic, the rise of deadly synthetic drugs and the widening legalization of marijuana, a curious bright spot has emerged in the youth drug culture: American teenagers are growing less likely to try or regularly use drugs, including alcohol.

“With minor fits and starts, the trend has been building for a decade, with no clear understanding as to why. Some experts theorize that falling cigarette-smoking rates are cutting into a key gateway to drugs, or that antidrug education campaigns, long a largely failed enterprise, have finally taken hold.

“But researchers are starting to ponder an intriguing question: Are teenagers using drugs less in part because they are constantly stimulated and entertained by their computers and phones?

“The possibility is worth exploring, they say, because use of smartphones and tablets has exploded over the same period that drug use has declined. This correlation does not mean that one phenomenon is causing the other, but scientists say interactive media appears to play to similar impulses as drug experimentation, including sensation-seeking and the desire for independence.

“Or it might be that gadgets simply absorb a lot of time that could be used for other pursuits, including partying.” Source.

The article references that other researchers are hopeful that public-education and prevention campaigns were working. My thought: “like they worked in the 1980s?”

Another floated theory is that the phone serves as a deterrent for teens at parties. As one teen shared, “…with a group sitting around a circle passing a bong or a joint. And I’ll sit away from the circle texting someone.” 

Or back to the original thesis of the article. From another researcher, “People are carrying around a portable dopamine pump.”  Dopamine is the brain chemical which plays a major role in reward-motivated behavior, which is often triggered by addictions.

Must be noted that while drug use has fallen among teens, ages 12 to 17, drug use hasn’t declined among college students—who are just as crazy about their phones.

So what do you think? And is this good news or bad news?

Meanwhile…

The Voluntary Social Media Fast—It Does Happen

Yet another survey (I do love this stuff!). This one is from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. This survey found that of teens, ages 13 to 17, 60% have taken a voluntary break from social media. 60%! And this is not the “voluntary” break that a parent had to enforce as punishment.  Which by the way, 38% said they had had this punishment.

Voluntary reasons for this social media break included 38% who did so because social media was getting in the way of work or school. Nearly 25% said they were tired of “the conflict and drama” and 20% said they were tired of having to keep up with what’s going on.

The 35% surveyed who said they have not taken a break named such worries as missing out and being disconnected from friends or said they needed social media for school or extracurricular activities.

Other interesting findings from this survey:

  • Lower income teens were more likely to take social media breaks than their wealthier counterparts, and their breaks tended to last longer.
  • Boys were more likely to feel overloaded with information on social media, while girls were more likely to feel they always have to show the best version of themselves. This finding is such a truth and grieves me about how hard it is to grow up as a girl these days.
  • Teens who took breaks typically did so across the board, checking out of Facebook, Snapchat and all other services all at once.
  • Although they felt relief and were happy to be away from social media for a while, most teens said things went back to how they were before once they returned to social media.

Source.

I am assuming that you are already keeping an open-ended conversation with your teen about social media—as well as keeping all access to their social media. Continue on and let them know that if they want to take a break that they are normal.

Ideas on how to take a social media break (to let go of the “dopamine pump” for a season): (Ahem…this may be for you too.)

  1. Decide how long you want to stay off of social media. Maybe it is one week. Maybe it is 99 days. Maybe it is every Sunday. Maybe it is to turn your ringer off for an hour a day or off past 6 pm. Make a sure decision.
  2. Choose the networks you want to take a break from. Maybe it is all of them. Maybe it is one or two that are timewasters for you or the ones that affect you emotionally. You do have the option to choose this—and that is freeing. You are the master of your social media and the social media world will survive without you. (Oftentimes we need to remind ourselves of this.)
  3. Turn off social media notifications or delete the apps entirely. You are the master of your social media and the social media world will survive without you. Consider: After the social media fast you may want to keep the notifications off.
  4. Let your friends and family know you’ll be taking a break. This will let people know why you aren’t answering their messages and prevent them from worrying once you “disappear” from the social media world. Let them know you will be alive and well in the real world.
  5. Create a clear statement as to why you are taking this break. You know the reasons that led you to this decision, now put it into a clear statement. When others ask (and they will), repeating this planned statement builds more conviction inside of you.
  6. Make a decision on what you are going to do with your found time. Will this be 20 minutes of quiet? Will this be a run without earbuds? Will you drink your coffee and savor each swallow (instead of mindless sipping and mindless tasting of calories you never appreciate)?

With all of this social media stress, here’s a hopeful reminder for you. “Family is not to be comfortable but transformational.”  You’ve got this…as you are being transformed.