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Shaping the Future Through Awareness

My Introduction Into Social Media as a LPC

Do you remember when Atari was the most popular, must have, latest gaming system? Or, when you got your first cell phone and it was used for emergencies only? How about when television ads first started to include that “www dot thing” at the bottom of the screen? Growing up, I can remember each of these instances and more as the world wide web began to infiltrate our homes and lives. Admittedly, as an adult now, I am not the one at the front of the line when the newest iPhone comes out and I haven’t owned a gaming system since Atari. I was slow to join Facebook and it has only been in the last few months, since connecting with Ryan and Shape The Sky, that I started to explore Snapchat and Instagram.

Obviously, I do not consider myself to be tech savvy and up on the latest and greatest. I do however, consider myself to be up on the most recent therapy techniques, theories, client needs, and available mental health resources. I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and for 17 years I have worked with clients as young as 7 years old, teens considered to be “at risk youth” and adults struggling with both mental health and addiction. Despite my counseling knowledge, skills, and experiences I was not prepared for what I heard during Ryan’s training sessions. I was shocked, appalled, and saddened by what I heard.

How am I not prepared and what was so shocking you ask? I am floored at just how many apps, venues, and organizations are out there on social media looking to “hook” our kids into their products. It isn’t that I am completely unaware of every app or distorted message found on social media but there were more than I could have imagined. I do not know how to use many of the apps, I don’t understand the secret settings, I am not up on the codes teens use when texting, and I certainly do not have to go through the intense pressures that most teens face today. The stark realization of how much social media infiltrates the lives of our teens and tweens is disheartening. I’m an adult and have a reasonable ability to filter, defend, or close out negative images, words, or people. Our teens don’t always have that ability. They are still trying to fit in, belong, find love, or learn to understand who they are as a person.

I have also become aware of one significant difference from my teenage years and now. I had the safety of home, no computer, no cell phone, and the phone tethered me to the family room for everyone to hear. I had to ask permission to call long distance, it still cost extra back then, my friends couldn’t reach me anytime they wanted and if someone was bullying me I could find solace in those four walls where they couldn’t tease me until the next school day. Now, teens are accessible 24/7. If I don’t like you, it isn’t just you who knows it, everyone knows. Every mistake, heartbreak, bad day, or negative experience is out there for anyone to see, exploit, or take advantage of.

In all of this madness there is a ray of hope. There are people like Ryan and organizations like Shape The Sky that are out there educating parents, teens, and professionals. I am looking forward to my journey with Ryan as I learn more about social media and how I can help to educate others and protect our kids.

So, as a counselor what do I need or want to do with all of this new awareness? I want to be more aware, more educated and more connected. I need to be each of those things if I am to help my clients as best as possible. I have started exploring more of the social media sites and apps Ryan presented in his training. I am not just exploring but learning to use. I am talking with the teens, tweens, and your adults in my personal life to find out first hand what some of the struggles are and how they would hope for adults to assist them in addressing those challenges. I am listening without judgment. I am asking questions knowing I don’t have the answers. This has been an eye opening journey so far and I am buckling up for now because I feel it may get a little bumpy.

 

Tracey Hazlett, MA, LPC, CADC, CCS is the owner of her private practice “Finding Hope from Within.” She provides therapy for adults affected by both mental health issues and addiction issues. Some of the mental health issues Ms. Hazlett treats includes Anxiety, Depression, Trauma/PTSD, Grief and Loss, Divorce, Self-esteem Issues, Relationship Issues, and Self-Harm. As a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor, she can treat not only the addiction but the underlying issues related to the addiction.

Prior to private practice, Ms. Hazlett has experience working with adults, adolescents and children in community out-patient programming, inpatient mental health setting, and out-patient addiction treatment. Her roles at those setting have included counseling, music therapy, supervision and trainer. Ms. Hazlett completed her undergraduate work at Slippery Rock University of PA with a major in Music Therapy. She continued her graduate work in Community Counseling at Indiana University of PA and obtained her Licensed Professional Counselor status in 2012.

Ask Amanda: Self-Esteem

Question:

“Dear Amanda,

I have a teenage daughter who is on social media. I worry about her self-esteem and her comparing herself to other girls on social media. How do I help her develop strong self-esteem in this social media visually driven world we are immersed in?”


Great question! Worrying about our daughter’s self esteem, especially in regards to body image and media, has been around for a long time. For decades, women have been used in print and television media to sell and promote various items and goods. They have been touched up, airbrushed and Photoshopped for years. Social media has certainly taken its place as the primary vehicle for teens to get information and feedback.

First of all, continue to do the good things that parents do to instill good self-esteem:
– Praise accomplishments
– Do things as a family
– Help your daughter build sets of skills and ways to express herself
– Encourage sports teams or other group based activities (band, theater, etc.).

Next, watch how you, as her parents, interact with her:

Moms
– Don’t criticize your own body in front of her, i.e.“Doesn’t my butt look big in these jeans?”

– Don’t wear her clothes. Allow her to develop her own sense of style and image.

Dads
– Teach her to be self sufficient and allow her to learn the same skills that you would a son: change a tire, drive, mow the lawn, play ball, learn sports, etc.

– Remember, that one-on-one time with a father is important!

Food
– Don’t talk about food as “good” or “bad.” Talk about balance and what helps to keep our bodies healthy.

Social Media
– Have a conversation about what your daughter is seeing. If she’s watching the Kardashians on television, talk with her about what she is thinking. Help her to develop a critical lens to translate and decode what is the message behind the ad or show.

– Talk with her about what she is seeing on Instagram, Snapchat and Tumblr. Discuss what hashtags her cyberpeers are using with selfies and photos. If you want more information about hashtags, contact Shape the Sky and request our hashtag guide.

– Review your daughter’s social media activities and discuss how to post a positive “brand” about herself.

– Research blogs about celebrities who stood up when their image was sabotaged by Photoshop and how they advocated for an accurate betrayal. Click here for an example of a great blog on the topic.

Warning Signs
If you continue to be concerned or notice your daughter becoming withdrawn, overly negative or changing her sleep, weight or eating habits, contact a professional. An assessment with a good therapist can give her support to get through a difficult time as well as screen for anything that may need further intervention.

As always, keep the conversation going. We can’t help them travel the path if they don’t have a map and a guide.

amanda-new

Amanda Cooper, LCSW

Ask Amanda: Technology Addiction

Question:

“I’m working with parents that are struggling with their kids’ behavioral outbursts when they take away their device. It’s almost like they have an addiction to their phone or tablet. I’ve heard of internet addiction, but is there device addiction?”
_______________________________________________________________________

This is a very good question and one that comes up often in discussions with parents and professionals.  For the most part, the object of dependence tends to be the cell phone. If you need a demonstration, all you need to do is go to the mall and try to walk without colliding with a teen whose eyes are turned downward to a device.

First, let’s start with the definition of addiction.  According to Merriam-Webster, addiction is defined as:

  • A strong and harmful need to regularly have something (such as a drug) or do something (such as gamble).
  • An unusually great interest in something or a need to do or have something.

If we use the first definition, I think we need to focus of the word “harmful.”  What would be harmful for a child with a device?  Clearly using a smart phone while driving is potentially harmful, but is all usage harmful?  As adults, we use smart phones and devices as tools in our work.  They help to organize our schedules, set reminders for appointments, check bank balances, take photos…there are dozens of positive usages for devices.

For many teens, they also use their devices for good.  I know in my daughter’s high school, many teachers encourage the usage of their devices for sending reminder texts about tests and homework, cancelling after school activities and even to do research in class when the teacher could not secure the cart of laptops.  In her personal life, there is the app that helped her to study for her drivers permit exam, records her practice lessons for her instrument and allows her to connect with colleges via her email.

In my world, I think of addiction as something that interferes and impacts one’s ability to carry on the activities of daily life.  So, having a glass of wine, not addiction.  Drinking every night and being unable to go to work or care for children, becomes harmful and thus, an addiction.

In the world of devices, I encourage parents to think about which patterns get in the way of positive usage.  For example, no one in my family has their smart phone in their bedroom.  Sleep is crucial for success so removing them to charge downstairs is a way to put a routine in place that encourages healthy device usage.  Parents have many controls that they can add to a child’s device, depending of age, to help guide positive usage.  Parents can control what time of day texts are permitted and phone calls.  For example, you can allow only messages from designated people during the school day and after 10:00 PM.

During meals, everyone puts their cell phone on the table and no one touches it until the end of the meal.  I can clearly see if I have an emergency call on the screen, but usually they stay quiet and we enjoy a family meal.  For other ideas, here is a link.

The best way to help address device overuse is to develop a contract with your child BEFORE they are given a device.  In the contract, you can outline time limits, time lengths, restrictions, in app purchases etc.  Then the standard is set and rewards for positive use as well as consequences for inappropriate use are already on the table

Is there the potential for a teen to become addicted to a device? YES!  If you are worried if your child is addicted to a device, it is important to seek professional help. Some behaviors that could be of concern: not sleeping due to being on the device, change or decrease in friends, decrease in other age appropriate activities (sports, clubs, job), lower grades, etc. Shape the Sky has begun training agencies and therapists who we recommend and we know have the knowledge to help.

Ultimately, it is our responsibility as adults to teach our children good habits so that their devices are tools to assist them (and us) in this busy world.  We need to create and continue a dialogue with them and help them to develop other interpersonal skills so that they grow to be successful young adults.

amanda-new

Amanda Cooper, LCSW

Facebook “Dislike” Button Update

As we thought, Facebook has made a decision about the “Dislike’ button. Rather than one button, Facebook is planning on launching a group of “Reaction” emojis which will express “love”, “haha”, “wow”, ”yay”, “sad” and “angry”. These emojis will have motion much like a gif.

emoji

Currently, they will pilot the new buttons in Spain and Ireland. After data is collected, then plan will be to release more globally. For a video of how it will be used and additional information, click here.

As with all changes, keeping up to date and talking with our kids about usage will continue to be important. The potential for “laughing” at something serious or being “angry” about something positive still exist. But the choice to show an empathetic response is certainly needed in today’s world. I look forward to the roll out in the U.S.

Amanda Cooper, LCSW

 

Facebook’s “Dislike” Button

In the last week, there has been a lot of talk about Mark Zuckerberg creating a new button to allow users to express “dislike”. This request has been going on for several years as users would like to show empathy for a FB friend who may be going thru something that is negative in their lives. As a clinician, my natural assumption, given the prevalence of cyberbullying, is that it could turn into another weapon in the cyber arsenal of those who wish to bully a peer.  Because we live in a world where we look for validation – we want to know that we are liked and that people are interested in what we have to say. A dislike button could add fuel to the fire and further the need for digital validation. After talking with my in-house expert, my daughter, who is a high school senior about this, her comment was, “That’s a horrible idea. All it will do is create more hate!”   As I contemplate this, I agree with her. From her perspective, a “Dislike” button will just allow peers to give a negative comment to each other and continue the issue of on-line bullying. Imagine a teen posting a new relationship status and a group of “friends” click on “Dislike” or posting a college acceptance letter, a prom photo, new pet and having a group of negative responses. This could have social and emotional consequences for youth. I then decided to challenge her. “How do you “like” a friend’s post that mentions that their grandmother died?” Her response was that she would post an emoticon showing a sad face or tears. Interesting.

So, let’s think about the flip side, why would Facebook create a button that could potentially be used for negative purposes? You could argue that having friends commiserate and offer support by “disliking” a post can feel therapeutic in the same way that venting about a tough day over a latte or a walk with a friend. And for those doing the “disliking”, it is known that expressing, rather than avoiding, negative emotions can prove helpful to well-being.  Also, if a teen posts an inappropriate comment and receives 89 “dislikes,” would this be feedback to the teen to recognize that the post was negative and allow the teen to edit or delete the post and learn from the experience? Interpretation of words without facial expressions, voice tone and other non verbal cues is difficult in this media world. This could allow for a discussion about sarcasm and “meaning what you say and saying what you mean.” Especially when it is posted for the world to see.

So where does that leave us? As with most apps and platforms, it’s how we use it and teach and monitor how our children use it. Zuckerberg has been quoted to say that “we didn’t want to build a “dislike” button because we didn’t want to turn Facebook into a forum where people are voting up or down on people’s posts.” Click here to read the full article.

The intention is for people to be able to express sympathy or support for personal or world issues that are around us. The company has not determined what the button will actually be labeled or what graphic will be used we will keep you posted. More importantly, this is a time to have a conversation with our kids about how to show support, both online and in the real world.

Amanda Cooper, LCSW