I don’t know what to say….

Sunset in Arizona.
Sunset down the road.

Not to get too morbid, but the past two weeks have been hellish. I feel my last week’s posts have focused on death. But it’s what is happening in our lives. I feel raw from the sadness of losing our friend Mark, and then I got a phone call late Friday night from a fellow swim mom. It’s not like her to call me. We haven’t talked much since our daughters graduated college with our swim parenting days behind us.

She started the call by saying, “I have something awful to tell you, but it’s not about Kat or Megan.” Kat and Megan are our daughters who swam together at the University of Utah. It was about one of their former teammates. He committed suicide.

I was getting texts and calls. Everyone was worried about my daughter and how she’d take the news. She was at work, and I asked everyone to talk to her once she got off work. In the end, her coach from Utah made the call and they cried together. Then my daughter went to her brother’s house and sat with his girlfriend. I’m so thankful and grateful to have them so close.

I am devastated for the loss of this young man of 24. He was the type of person everybody wanted to be around. He was tall, good looking, smart, funny. He had a hearty laugh that was contagious. He was so polite and well-mannered that when we went out to dinner with him, he’d stand when I got up to use the bathroom.

I’ve heard from swim moms that his teammates are devastated. Nobody had a clue that life was less than perfect for him. Nobody knew that he was suffering. There weren’t any signs.

I cannot imagine how his family is doing. I enjoyed his parents so much and often sat with them at swim meets beginning in high school through college. His older sister is one of my daughter’s best friends and the three of them spent tons of time together.

I asked my husband, “How much pain are we able to take?”

This makes me worry about the mental health of our youth more than ever. I want to know if social media has made depression and anxiety worse? There’s a difference of three years between my son and daughter. Social media was only MySpace when my son was in middle school and early high school. By the time my daughter was that age, social media was so much more prevalent and popular. Is this a result of growing up on screens?

I had this conversation with my daughter before this tragedy occurred. We were talking about anxiety and depression. She thinks that people her age and younger are much more open to getting treatment. And that they are more open to talking about mental illness. She doesn’t think social media is causing more young people to have depression or anxiety. She thinks the numbers are going up because more kids are getting treatment.

I tend to think it may be a combination of many factors, social media included, and her generation being more open to talk about mental health. I think I’m searching for a reason. Something to blame for the loss of this young man’s life.

What is your opinion? Do you think mental illness in teens and early 20-year-olds is increasing? Or are they more open to discussing it? What do you see as the causes?

Are parents harming kids by posting pics online?

Tiger and pumpkin Halloween kid pic
The first Halloween for my kids together.

What do you think the long term outcome will be for parents posting every moment of their kids’ lives on social media?

I’m not pointing fingers, because yes, I was guilty of this myself.

Do you remember when once a year relatives or close friends would come over and the slide projector and screen would come out? Or, when you sat with a bowl of popcorn on the carpet with the cousins at your grandparents house watching old slides of your parents?

For decades parents have loved to photograph their kids. That’s because our kids are the most gorgeous and special human beings on the planet. Even Lucy took lots of photos of Little Ricky. There’s an episode about that.

I took tons of photos of my kids when they were babies and toddlers. I took less and less as they got older until our phones got cameras. I was guilty of taking photos whenever I could. And posting them on Facebook. Now, I don’t take as many photos of my kids, because when we’re together, I just want to be with them in the moment. And I’m not as active on Facebook, either.

I wrote the following post six years ago wondering what would happen when parents post photos of their kids all the time. Well, six years later, we’ve seen plenty of negative things. Some positive, too. Did we have “influencers” six years ago? When you read the excerpts of the articles I included, please remember they are dated. But they were already seeing issues.

Post from October 2015:

First Christmas photo shoot with a real photographer for my baby girl.
First Christmas photo shoot with a real photographer for my baby girl. ‘Kat in the Hat.”

Thank goodness we didn’t have Facebook when my kids were young. We barely had internet. We had a modem and I could send files of work to a printer. There was no way to share every minute detail and selfie of our day. Instead, I took my film downtown to the photo shop that made double prints. Then I wrote a card or letter by hand to my mom or dad and inserted the photos and mailed them the old fashioned way. Here’s the end result of my old fashioned film and camera. A closet with shelves filled with photo albums.

Stacks of photo albums in a closet
A few of my photo albums, filled with real live pictures.

My fear is that we are raising kids who think they are more self-important than they really are. Their every move is recorded and shared with the world. As they grow older and have their own Instagram, Snapchat etc. will they try harder and harder to get noticed? Will the photos get more outrageous and provocative? Look at me????

Christmas photo shoot 1996.
Christmas photo shoot 1996.

I’ve been reading articles about this phenomenon. Here’s a related article I wrote on whether or not our kids get too much glory. Following are some excerpts and links from CNN and US News. Some report skyrocketing anxiety and depression as a result of too much social media.

“The 2014 National College Health Assessment, a survey of nearly 80,000 college students throughout the United States, found that 54% of students reported experiencing overwhelming anxiety in the past 12 months and that 32.6% “felt so depressed that it was difficult to function” during the same period. The study also found that 6.4% had “intentionally, cut, burned, bruised or otherwise injured” themselves, that 8.1% had seriously considered suicide and that 1.3% had attempted suicide.

Ease up on the pressure. Do we really have to be noticed all the time? Does every second have to be a beauty contest? Our kids need to stop feeling that they have to outperform their peers every minute of every day. They need to know that they don’t have to market themselves constantly, and that social media can be a mechanism for fostering collaborative relationships — not a medium for fueling competition, aggression and irresponsible behavior that contributes to anxiety and depression.” More from CNN here.

Here’s another article with an interesting point of view on selfies and a teen’s self worth. Read more from US News here.

“Social media use can turn into a problem when a teen’s sense of self worth relies on peer approval, Proost says. Whether they’re posting from the football game bleachers or on a family vacation, teens can access social media anywhere and at all times. And because of the constant connection, it can be dangerous for young people overly concerned with others’ opinions. They may feel like they can never escape the social environment and are constantly faced with peer pressure.

“The mental health outcomes that we’re starting to look at now are things like body dysmorphic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression and anxiety,” Proost says. “We are starting to see those things creep up and be related conditions to excessive [social media] use.”

If we know an overuse of social media can be fun, but also have consequences that negatively impact our children—why are we leading and feeding them down this road? 

Don’t get me wrong. I love FB. I’m learning Instagram. I LOVE that I’ve reconnected with friends and family and get to share in their lives. I say to keep an eye out for when it gets out of hand.

What are your thoughts on a generation of kids whose every move has been recorded and shared? Do you think moms should post photos of their kids all the time on social media? Do you think that has an effect on the children’s social media habits?

Defaults can change social media

Live now sign on bookshelf
A bookshelf of my favorite children’s books holds a sign reminding me to live now.
Get off social media and into the real world.

In an article from the Wall Street Journal, I learned that some of the addictive aspects of Facebook Instagram and the other social media sites can be fixed. Like eliminating “likes” is an option. You can also stop push notifications for up to eight hours. You can even limit data collection.

How? Read this article called “How to Fix Facebook, Instagram and Social Media? Change the Defaults” by Joanna Stern linked below. It shows screen shots of where to find the defaults and lists a bunch of things parents can do to limit their children’s addictive relationship with social media. Some of these I’m going to do for myself, too. Stern also discusses legislation that’s in the works for social media.

Here’s an excerpt:

Default settings in our social-media apps were designed to benefit companies and their bottom lines. What if regulation pushed them to benefit us?

Quick homework assignment: Open Instagram, tap the head icon at the bottom right, then the three lines in the top right corner, then Settings, then Privacy. (Almost there, I promise!) Tap Posts and switch on “Hide Likes and View Counts.”

A few of you hopefully followed along. Most of you probably ignored me like the airline’s automated call system when I scream, “Representative!”

That’s OK. You’ve proven my point: Most people don’t change the default settings in their social-media apps—or any apps.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-to-fix-facebook-instagram-and-social-media-change-the-defaults-11634475600?mod=life_work_lead_pos5

I for one haven’t looked at the defaults in any of my apps. I think it’s a worthwhile thing to do unless you want to delete them from your life forever.

What are your thoughts about changing defaults in apps and social media? Is it something you’ve done before? What do you think is most useful for you or your kids?

What do techies know that we don’t?

The post I wrote yesterday about how our brains are being flooded with dopamine and how social media and screens are negatively affecting our health, reminded me of a blog post I wrote a few years ago about how the high tech geniuses in the Silicon Valley won’t allow their children to have any screen time at all. Zero. They obviously know something they aren’t telling the rest of us.

brother and sister showing off super powers
Robert and Kat showing off their super powers way before social media.

Here’s what I wrote about Silicon Valley parents a few years ago:

Talk about hypocrites. I read the strangest story about parents who live in the Silicon Valley. They refuse to let their kids see or touch iPhones or any screens of any nature. These are parents who work in the high tech world and themselves use the devices. While they are at work, they hire nannies to shield their kids from the heinous devices they work to create.

Then to even go further, they make nannies sign contracts that they will keep them away from screens. They also hire spies to snoop on their nannies at parks to make sure they don’t cheat and check their phones. Maybe it’s because they understand how miserable the phones are making their lives, that they want to keep their kids’ lives free from tech. Or maybe they know something we don’t about how unhealthy these screens are.

Here are a few excerpts from the article I read in sfgate called Silicon Valley Nannies are Phone Police for Kids:

SAN FRANCISCO — Silicon Valley parents are increasingly obsessed with keeping their children away from screens. Even a little screen time can be so deeply addictive, some parents believe, that it’s best if a child neither touches nor sees any of these glittering rectangles. These particular parents, after all, deeply understand their allure.

But it’s very hard for a working adult in the 21st century to live at home without looking at a phone. And so, as with many aspirations and ideals, it’s easier to hire someone to do this.

Enter the Silicon Valley nanny, who each day returns to the time before screens.

“Usually a day consists of me being allowed to take them to the park, introduce them to card games,” Jordin Altmann, 24, a nanny in San Jose, said of her charges. “Board games are huge.”

“Almost every parent I work for is very strong about the child not having any technical experience at all,” Altmann said. “In the last two years, it’s become a very big deal.”

From Cupertino to San Francisco, a growing consensus has emerged that screen time is bad for kids. It follows that these parents are now asking nannies to keep phones, tablets, computers and TVs off and hidden at all times. Some are even producing no-phone contracts, which guarantee zero unauthorized screen exposure, for their nannies to sign.

The fear of screens has reached the level of panic in Silicon Valley. Vigilantes now post photos to parenting message boards of possible nannies using cellphones near children. Which is to say, the very people building these glowing hyper-stimulating portals have become increasingly terrified of them. And it has put their nannies in a strange position.

“In the last year everything has changed,” said Shannon Zimmerman, a nanny in San Jose who works for families that ban screen time. “Parents are now much more aware of the tech they’re giving their kids. Now it’s like, ‘Oh no, reel it back, reel it back.’ Now the parents will say ‘No screen time at all.’”

The bright side is these parents do care about their kids. They want what is best for them. I wonder if they use their electronics while they are at home? Do they put away the iphones at dinner? Do the parents realize that their kids will model their behavior and learn most from what they do, not what they say?

brother and sister playing cowboy
My cowboys using their imaginations.

Do you think the Silicon Valley parents have known all along how dangerous and addictive screen time is? Or, is it a personal choice not to let their kids on screens? Are they wanting their kids to have the idealized life before computers? Do you or did you limit screen time for your kids?

WSJ says Instagram is harmful for teens

I read an interesting article today about Instagram and teen girls called “Facebook Knows Instagram Is Toxic for Teen Girls, Internal Documents Show.” Written by Georgia Wells, Jeff Horwitz and Deepa Seetharama for the Wall Street Journal, the article says that social media may become the youth generation’s tobacco companies.

Waffles the pug. Waffles has his own Instagram account wafflezworldwide.

You can read the entire article HERE.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,” the researchers said in a March 2020 slide presentation posted to Facebook’s internal message board, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. “Comparisons on Instagram can change how young women view and describe themselves.”

For the past three years, Facebook has been conducting studies into how its photo-sharing app affects its millions of young users. Repeatedly, the company’s researchers found that Instagram is harmful for a sizable percentage of them, most notably teenage girls.

“We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls,” said one slide from 2019, summarizing research about teen girls who experience the issues.

“Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression,” said another slide. “This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.”

Among teens who reported suicidal thoughts, 13% of British users and 6% of American users traced the desire to kill themselves to Instagram, one presentation showed.

Isn’t this scary? I feel like someone’s unleashed Godzilla on the world. What will we know 10 or 20 years from now? Hopefully, we will move beyond social media and get back to in person interaction. I think if I were a parent of younger kids today, I wouldn’t let my kids have a smart phone, but stick with the flip phones or dumb phones. I didn’t get my kids smart phones until they were in high school.

Another thing I found troubling with this article is that Facebook has done internal studies for several years and they know Instagram has issues at its core. But they downplay them to the public. Our congress and senate have asked for Facebook’s studies and they do not comply with the requests.

Here’s more from the article:

In public, Facebook has consistently played down the app’s negative effects on teens, and hasn’t made its research public or available to academics or lawmakers who have asked for it.

“The research that we’ve seen is that using social apps to connect with other people can have positive mental-health benefits,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said at a congressional hearing in March 2021 when asked about children and mental health.

The features that Instagram identifies as most harmful to teens appear to be at the platform’s core.

The tendency to share only the best moments, a pressure to look perfect and an addictive product can send teens spiraling toward eating disorders, an unhealthy sense of their own bodies and depression, March 2020 internal research states. It warns that the Explore page, which serves users photos and videos curated by an algorithm, can send users deep into content that can be harmful.

“Aspects of Instagram exacerbate each other to create a perfect storm,” the research states.

What are your thoughts about Instagram and other social media? Do you spend much time with it? Do your kids or grandkids? Do you notice a change in how they feel after they use social media? I find I’m using it less and less.

Should parents monitor their kids social media?

blond brother and sister at Laguna Beach.
My children before there was a thing called social media.

Social media is not going away anytime soon. I’ve read articles where 95% of kids from age 12 to young adults use Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat. Those are the preferred apps. In an article called Are you OK? | Teens and social media posted on KING TV5 in Seattle, there’s lots of good advice for parents .

By now we all know that social media can cause depression, anxiety in kids as well as adults. What’s really scary is not only cyber bullying but this shocking statistic: 90% of human trafficking begins on social media.

I discovered that in an article called Mesa-based company creates app to monitor children’s social media in simple format by Georgann Yara on the website AZCentral.

There’s an app developed by two men in Arizona that allows parents to monitor their kids social media sites. Here’s a bit of the article:

Years before they met and launched Cyber Dive, a social media monitoring tech company geared toward parents, Jeff Gottfurcht and Derek Jackson were well aware of social media’s powerful and dangerous side.

Gottfurcht is the first person in the world to summit Mt. Everest with Rheumatoid Arthritis. When he returned home from that trip in 2011, he saw a news story about a young girl who was humiliated and bullied on social media after word got out about her being sexually assaulted.

Around the same time, Jackson was across the globe in the Army 1st Special Forces Group, where he spent time in Kuwait, Jordan and Syria. He was an intelligence officer looking into how U.S. adversaries and radical insurgents used social media to recruit members to their cause and perpetuate propaganda.

In 2019, the two got together and formed Cyber Drive because of that story about the girl who was victimized on social media. They created an app to help parents get meaningful information about their kids online activity, while still allowing children independence.

Here’s how it works:

The software covers all platforms and the free membership option includes monitoring on indicators like recurring themes in language, dangerous or suspicious online activity and emotions indicated by analysis of their data. The $5 monthly premium membership allows greater access to features like friends lists, posts and Google searches. ‍

When parents sign up for either membership, they must enter their child’s email address. Then, their child receives a message explaining that someone will use Cyber Dive to monitor their accounts. Parents are encouraged to discuss this with their child before signing up, Gottfurcht said.

Parents use the app for different reasons. Some for safety concerns while others want to have a closer relationship with their children. You can visit Cyber Dive’s website HERE to find out more.

It sounds like a great idea to me. But do you think teens would figure out away around it? Do you think it’s a good idea to keep tabs on teens social media and why or why not?