As teens mature, they become more aware of their bodies and how others view them. During these formative years, many teens begin attaching their self-worth to the size and shape of their bodies, and give significance to how other teens react to their size, weight, or physical appearance. This causes many teens, particularly teen girls, to become hypercritical of their physical appearance and burdened with thoughts that they may be too fat. Striving to be healthy through a balanced diet and exercise are great habits to instill in your teen as they grow and become more aware of their bodies. However, far too many teens today suffer from eating disorders that diminish both their physical and mental health.
As a parent of a teen, it is important to understand eating disorders, know what symptoms to look for in your own teenager, and learn how to help if your teen is suffering.
The Prevalence of Eating Disorders in Teenagers
According to National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, over 30 million people suffer from some form of an eating disorder. Additionally, three percent of adolescents develop eating disorders. Eating disorders most commonly develop from ages 12-20, and once established can persist over a person’s adult lifetime as well.
The Three Most Common Types of Eating Disorders
Eating disorders can present in a myriad of ways, so it is important to understand the most common types of eating disorders, and the damages each can do to your teen’s body and mind.
The National Eating Disorders Organization outlines the three most common types of eating disorders as: Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia, and Binge Eating.
1. Anorexia Nervosa
Anorexia is a condition of self-starvation, and deprivation of food. Without eating properly, the body becomes deprived of nutrients needed for survival and forces the body to slow down vital functions. Anorexia is the leading cause of death for women 12-25.
Bulimia is the systematic habit of binging and eating in excess, and then purging that food by vomiting or other means (ie excessive exercise). Bulimia can lead to severe chemical imbalances in the body and damage the digestive tract as well as diminish the function of other vital organs.
3. Binge Eating Disorder
Binge Eating Disorder is a condition marked by frequently eating large amounts of food, and can rapidly lead to health issues such as obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
Eating Disorder Symptoms to Look Out for as a Parent
As the parent of a teenager, it is important to be aware of what indicators or symptoms your teen might exhibit if he or she is suffering from an eating disorder. The symptoms can vary depending on the type of disorder, but the Mayo Clinic identifies these symptoms in correlation to the three most common types:
• Distorted body image
• Intense fear of weight gain
• Abnormally low body weight (though teens with normal or above average weights can also suffer from disorders)
• Going to the bathroom immediately after eating a meal
• Vomiting after eating meals
• Excessive calorie counting or exercise
• Use of laxatives or diet pills
• Eating very quickly or in excess
• Eating alone or in hiding
How to Help Your Teen if You Suspect an Eating Disorder
If you suspect that your teenager is suffering from an eating disorder, then it is important for their health and safety to intervene and help them. Because eating disorders are often coupled with shame, fear, or depression, your teen may not actively seek help from anyone. If you notice any concerning symptoms, you should speak to your teen. Be loving, supportive, and talk about your concerns in terms of their health, not how they look or how much they weigh. It may also be a good idea to examine your own relationship with food, and make sure you are promoting healthy living for both yourself and your family members.
Eating disorders often develop during adolescence, but can last into adulthood if they are not treated and managed effectively as soon as possible. If your teen is exhibiting symptoms of an eating disorder that continue even after you’ve begun attempts to help, then it is highly recommended that you seek the help of a therapist or doctor who specializes in teen eating disorders. They can help you and your family forge a path to a long, healthy, happy life that is not controlled by food or eating disorders.
Just recently, Instagram sensation Essena O’Neill announced that she was quitting social media. In her official Instagram statement, O’Neill says, “I’m quitting Instagram, YouTube and Tumblr. Deleted over 2000 photos here today that served no real purpose other than self-promotion. Without realizing, I’ve spent majority of my teenage life being addicted to social media, social approval, social status and my physical appearance. Social media, especially how I used it, isn’t real. It’s contrived images and edited clips ranked against each other. It’s a system based on social approval, likes, validation in views, and success in followers.”
O’Neill had a following of more than half a million people, and could make nearly $2000 a day from her various posts. She says that she made the decision to quit social media because she felt a life built on getting ‘likes’ was harmful and became too much to handle. “I just want younger girls to know this isn’t candid life, or cool or inspirational. It’s contrived perfection made to get attention,” she stated in an emotional video thanking her followers and telling them there really is more to life than likes.
O’Neill’s journey from a young and popular social media influencer to someone who now identifies with the symptoms of depression and anxiety really raised the question- is social media harmful to our mental health?
Like O’Neill, today’s teenagers spend hours a day on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Can these sites be harmful to the average teen? “It’s inevitable that anxiety is going to be there, especially with young people who don’t have a clear sense of identity. If you grow up knowing ‘this is what I’m good at, this is what I’m not, or this is what I like about myself’, you’ve got that stronger baseline of characteristics to define you. If you don’t have that, it makes you feel much more insecure,” psychologist, Dr. Linda Papadopoulos says about the use of social media. When you put yourself out there as a teen, you open yourself up to extreme scrutiny. This can be harmful to the still developing teen mind.
Social media is also a contributor to emotional stress. A study done in Australia revealed that the fear of missing out, or “FOMO,” and the anxiety caused by our constant attachment to social media, is sending social media users stress levels sky high. The Stress and Wellbeing in Australia Survey 2015 found that around half of Australian teens feel their peers have more rewarding experiences than them because of what they post on social media, which cause them great anxiety. A report from the Australian Psychology Society said that close to 60 percent of teens have difficulty sleeping and relaxing after having accessed a social media site and a similar number are feeling burnt out from the constant connectivity.
In the UK, at the University of Glasgow, researchers provided questionnaires to 467 students between the ages of 11 and 17 regarding nighttime usage of social media. The researchers also probed the students regarding their habits through tests that assessed the quality of sleep, self-esteem, anxiety, depression and emotional investment in relation to social media use. They also concluded that FOMO was a serious issue amongst teens. According to their findings, the “pressure to be available 24/7” and the perceived necessity of “responding to posts or texts immediately can increase anxiety.” This team found that the teens who were more active and emotionally invested in their digital worlds were reporting that they had lower self-esteem, a poor sleep quality, and a higher amount of depression and anxiety when compared to their peers who spent less time on social media sites. Basically, they found that spending more time on social media sites made teens more susceptible to increased anxiety and depression.
So, what can be done to help our teens navigate the social media world in a more mentally positive way? Here are some tips:
1. Stop the use of social media at least one to two hours before bedtime. Dr. Heather Cleland Woods, one of the lead researchers on the University of Glasgow study, stated that “while overall social media use impacts on sleep quality, those who log on at night appear to be particularly affected.” She continued to say, “This may be mostly true of individuals who are highly emotionally invested. This means we have to think about how our kids use social media, in relation to time for switching off.” The brain needs time to disconnect from the digital world. Take the time to read a book, write in a journal, or simply relax to some of your favorite tunes.
2. Experience life in real time, not through a screen. When you make plans with friends and family be sure to stay present. Keep off of your smart phone, tablet, and computer and spend real face to face time with the people in your life. Have you been to a mall lately? How many times have you seen a group of teens all hanging around together, but most have their noses in a phone rather than interacting with the people around them? Teens today are missing out on the world around them because they have their heads buried in their digital world. By living life in real time and not through a screen, you are more connected with how you are feeling and what you are doing – which will relieve any feelings of anxiety or stress you may be hanging on to.
3. Know what is appropriate and inappropriate to share on-line. Make sure that kids and teens understand what is safe and appropriate to post on line. It is important that they understand that once something is on-line, it is on-line to stay. Teach them the value of positive and kind words and tell them if they need to vent out frustrations, that is probably best done in the privacy of a journal and not on Facebook or whatever site they are on. Make it a priority to be a part of their social media life so you can help them if/when they or someone else crosses a line.
4. Take a day or two a week to disconnect completely. Keep all temptation tucked away. Get a group together to go places where hiding on-line isn’t an option. Escape to the wilderness, take a hike, have a picnic. You could even try one of these fun group date ideas, just remember, no social media, really go out there and live life! Psychology Today states that. “We all need a little room to breathe and get a fresh perspective now and again. Give yourself space to grow, and discover who you truly are. Remember that what you see on social media isn’t necessarily a true depiction of a person’s life.” When no longer distracted by social media, you will be happier, less anxious and more motivated to get out and enjoy real life.
More research is needed before any definitive conclusions are reached regarding the relationship between social media and anxiety and depression. But it is becoming more and more clear that there is a slightly more harmful side to being consistently connected. One thing we can say for certain is that less is definitely more when it comes to social media use.
We have all been there. We go out to dinner with a group of friends and everyone is on their smart phone. You would be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t look at their phone at least once. Some people are on theirs longer than others, scrolling through Facebook, checking e-mails, maybe playing a game. Others are more subtle, taking quick glances at their phones periodically, maybe checking the weather or responding to a quick text. It could be that these people are “addicted” to their smart phones!
In today’s always-connected society a disturbing trend is surfacing. Thought not an official diagnosis in the America Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), excessive smart phone usage is starting to appear as an “addiction,” especially among teens and young adults.
A Pew Research Center report on US smart phone use in 2015 indicates that 85 percent of young adults ages 18-29 own a smart phone. For many young people, their smart phone is their ever-present partner morning, noon, and night. A 2015 Trends in Mobility report by Bank of America found that 34 percent of young adults even sleep with their smart phones!
What is Addiction?
The current DSM (5) defines addiction as problematic pattern of engaging in an activity that leads to clinically significant impairment or distress. This can include participating in an activity for longer time periods that originally intended. In addition an inordinate amount of time spent in the activity causes a failure to be able fulfil role obligations at work, home or school. The participant will continue the activity despite the problems that the excessive participation in the activity causes.
For teens and young adults today, checking their smart phone is even more important than eating and sleeping. To lose access to their smart phone causes them great anxiety and distress.
Jan Hamilton, Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, and Founder of Doorways, a Phoenix, Arizona, counseling center that exclusively works with teens and young adults, says that excessive smart phone is a problem we can no longer ignore. “Today’s young people are connected at the hip to their smart phones. They see their phones as an extension of themselves, and when they don’t have access to them many young people experience extreme anxiety,” she says.
Why Are Young People “Addicted” to Their Smart Phones?
Smart phones invoke intense emotions in people, says Liraz Margalit, in an article titled Why We’re Addicted to Our Smart Phones, But Not Our Tablets, 94 percent of college students report feeling troubled when they are without their smart phones. Eighty percent of students reported they felt jealous when someone else held their phones, and 70 percent indicated that they would have feelings of depression, panic and helplessness if their phones were lost or stolen.
Smartphones are designed to get us to check them repeatedly which turns into a habit. But this habit enacts a rewarding feedback loop of stimulus and response. When a person checks their Facebook page, or gets and email or text message it releases endorphins in their brain which feel good. We get instant gratification. So we continue to check our smart phone. But then the habit turns into a need that can cause anxiety when not fulfilled.
How Do You Know if you are “Addicted” to Your Smart Phone?
If you sleep with your smart phone right by your side; you might be addicted to your smart phone. If you find yourself checking your phone every five to 10 minutes; you might be addicted to your smart phone. If you find yourself looking at your phone instead of doing your work assignments, or checking a social media account during activities with friends and family; you might be addicted to your smart phone.
So How Do You Get Over Smart Phone “Addiction?”
Hamilton recommends these 4 tips for teens and young adults who suspect they are “addicted” to their smart phones.
- Don’t sleep with your phone. As a young person sleep is essential to feeling good because you are still growing. When you sleep with your smart phone, the artificial light emitted from your phone arouses your brain and disrupts your body’s ability to fall into REM (deep, healing sleep). This lack of REM sleep affects your mood, your ability to study and retain information, our energy level and more. So shut your phone off maybe a half hour to an hour before you go to bed so you can spend the last of your day truly relaxing and preparing for sleep.
- Make a specific time of day “no phone time.” For example, many families have decided that dinner time or homework time is family time, not phone time.
- Focus on the people you are with. When you are at a family outing keep your phone on silent and tucked away. Take the time to notice the people you are with physically. When you check your phone when you are supposed to be engaging with other people you are basically telling them that your phone is more important than them.
- Shut your phone off in the car. Texting and driving is not only dangerous, but in many states it’s against the law. So make it a rule when you are driving, shut off your phone so that you are not even tempted to look at it. Your life and other people’s lives are at stake. It is impossible for your mind to be at two places at once, so if your eyes and mind are on your phone, they won’t be on the road. If you need directions, map out your route before you get in the car, and if you need to, pull off to the side of the road and look them up again. You could also invest in a GPS if your vehicle isn’t equipped with one. (Be sure to put in all the information before you begin driving.) Responding to a text or posting to Facebook in the car isn’t worth losing your life over.
If you know of a teen that seems to go through intense mood changes, then he or she might be displaying symptoms of bipolar disorder.
It’s often the case that young people afflicted with bipolar disorder will throw off signals to that effect. They may act unusually goofy, irritable, angry or overly excited on occasion. After that, they might show signs of extreme depression.
It’s important at that point to get a diagnosis from a qualified medical professional.
What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a mental illness. It’s often characterized as “manic-depressive illness.” Young people who have bipolar disorder will often go through significant mood swings. On some occasions, they’re overly enthusiastic, have tremendous amounts of energy and don’t need to sleep much. On other occasions, they’re noticeably sad.
The irritable or overly active side of the behavior change is called “mania.” The sad side of the behavior change is called “depression.”
Keep in mind that bipolar disorder often strikes people in their teenage years.
“Bipolar disorder usually starts between 15 and 30 years of age,” according to WebMD. “It’s more prevalent in those teens who have a family history of the mood disorder.”
For young people, the illness can cause them to perform poorly in school. Even worse, some teenagers who have bipolar disorder attempt suicide, according to Everyday Health Media, LLC.
How is Bipolar Disorder Different in Young People than it is in Adults?
When bipolar disorder manifests itself in young people, it’s called an early-onset bipolar disorder. Sadly, that can be a more severe onset of the mental illness than when it starts in older people.
Keep in mind also that kids with bipolar disorder may exhibit mood swings more frequently than their older counterparts.
The Causes of Bipolar Disorder
There are several potential causes of bipolar disorder. Here are some of the most widely known:
• Genes – Bipolar disorder can run in families. Teenagers who have a parent with the disorder are more likely to get it than those who don’t, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
• Brain structure and functioning – The NIMH also reports that magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) tests show that people with bipolar disorder have brains that differ from the brains of healthy people.
• Anxiety disorders – It’s also possible that anxiety disorders can lead to the development of bipolar disorder, according to the NIMH.
However, it should be noted that the causes of bipolar disorder aren’t always clear. The research, as of this writing, is ongoing.
Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
Kids who have bipolar disorder often go through mood swings, called “mood episodes.” They’ll experience manic episodes, depressive (sad) episodes, and a mixture of the two. Teenagers are more likely to experience mixed episodes than older people.
Mood episodes often last a week or two. During those episodes, the symptoms go on for most of the day.
The mood episodes are also very intense. The observed behavior will fall well outside of the typical mood swings exhibited by young people who don’t have the disorder.
Here are some of the symptoms of a manic episode in a teen:
• Silly behavior
• Speed talking
• Sleep problems
• Frequent talk about sex
• Risky behavior
Here are some of the symptoms of a depressive episode in a teen:
• Feelings of guilt and worthlessness
• Suicidal thoughts
• Excessive complaining
• Sleep disorders
• Eating disorders
• A noticeable lack of energy
Problems Associated with Bipolar Disorder in Young People
As if the above noted problems weren’t bad enough, there are other problems that young people experience as a result of their bipolar disorder. Here are several of them:
• Substance abuse – Sometimes bipolar teens will take drugs or resort to drinking as a coping mechanism.
• Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – It’s often the case that young people afflicted with bipolar disorder have trouble staying focused.
• Anxiety disorders – Sometimes, kids who have bipolar disorder also exhibit one or more types of anxiety disorders.
• Academic issues – It’s also often the case that bipolar disorder prevents young people from reaching their potential in school
Treatment for Bipolar Disorder
Unfortunately, there is no cure for bipolar disorder. However, there are some treatments that can help control the symptoms.
• Medication – Sometimes, medication can help alleviate the symptoms. It should be noted, though, that different teenagers respond to medication in different ways. In short, it’s sometimes necessary to try different types of medication before finding the right one. If you’re the parent or guardian of a teen who’s taking medication for bipolar disorder, be certain to tell your physician about any adverse side effects that you’re noticing.
• Therapy – Sometimes, “talk” therapy helps young people deal with the symptoms of bipolar disorder. That’s a type of psychotherapy that helps teenagers manage their schedules. It can also help them develop a better social life as well.
How Does Treatment Affect Teenagers?
In some cases, a teen’s bipolar disorder will change following a prescribed treatment. When that happens, it’s important that the treatment changes as well. It may be time for a different medication or possible adjustments to the dosage.
Sometimes, treatment takes a while. However, sticking with it for the long haul is the recipe for success when it comes to working with kids who have bipolar disorder.
Parents can help by keeping a chart of their teen’s moods and sleep patterns. This “daily life chart” or “mood chart” can enable parents to better track the disorder. It will also aide a physician in determining whether or not the prescribed treatment is working.
How Can You Help Your Teen?
If you think that your teen might have bipolar disorder, it’s important to make an appointment with a doctor to get the proper diagnosis. If it turns out that he or she does have the disorder, then talk about possible treatment options.
Here are some basic pointers if your teen does have the disorder:
• Encourage the teen to talk and be sure to listen
• Understand that mood episodes are a part of the disorder
• Practice lots of patience
• Have fun with your teen and help him or her to have fun with others
• Help your teen understand that treatment can help
Bipolar disorder is a mental health illness that not only afflicts adults, but teenagers as well. Even though there’s no cure for it, there is treatment that can help with the symptoms. It’s important that those who are entrusted with the care of kids who have bipolar disorder exercise proper encouragement and patience while working with the teenagers.
Teen Suicide Prevention is an important topic to discuss. The Tempe, Arizona, community was rocked in May of 2015 when Corona del Sol High senior, Marcus Wheeler, took his own life.
“I Want My Life 3 Months Ago Back”
Wheeler used social media to express his frustrations.
The week before his suicide he tweeted, “life has fallen apart in front of my own eyes and its all my fault.”
Within 24 hours of his suicide, he tweeted “i want my life 3 months ago back” and “help.”
On the day of the suicide, he tweeted, “No motivation to do anything.” Later, he wrote, “There is going to be a suicide in the school right now.”
Then, he shot himself.
Teen Suicide: All Too Common
This tragic death is horrible situation for family, friends and the school, and unfortunately situations like this occur in the US almost every day. There is one suicide in the US every 13 minutes, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Suicide is the second largest cause of death of young people ages 15-24.
In Arizona, the percentage of teens who injured themselves while attempting suicide almost doubled in the decade between 2003 and 2013. According to the 2013 Youth Risk Behavioral Survey, 22 percent of 9th grades in Arizona have thought about taking their own lives in the previous 12 months.
It’s important that young people get the help that they need before it’s too late!
The Warning Signs
Hindsight is always 20/20. Looking back at Wheeler’s timeline on Twitter, we now see some warning signs.
It’s not uncommon for people who are planning to take their own life to throw off warning signs that they’re suicidal. It’s important that friends and family members recognize such signs and act accordingly.
If you’re concerned that somebody you know might be contemplating suicide, look for these types of behaviors:
- Withdrawal – Was the person at one time more sociable? Did he or she like to go out and have a great time but now seems to be isolated and prefers to stay alone? Further, is the person’s solitary confinement without explanation? If so, then there’s likely a significant level of depression that’s causing the change in behavior. Talk to the individual to find out what’s happened.
- Relationship Problems – Although relationship problems are a rite of passage during your youth, they can also cause people to have suicidal thoughts. That’s what happened with Marcus Wheeler, after all. If the individual seems to be overly distraught because of a failed relationship, start offering some words of encouragement and lend a listening ear.
- Academic Failures – It may be that the person you’re thinking about was once a 4.0 student. Now, he or she is getting C’s and D’s. That’s a telltale sign that there’s been some type of shakeup and that the person doesn’t care anymore. Intervene politely.
- Rebellion – It’s not exactly unusual for young people to exhibit some level of rebellion. However, if it seems out of character for the person you’re thinking about, then offer a helping hand.
- Unusual Gift-Giving – If someone is giving away his or her possessions as though they won’t be needed anymore, you should take note. This is especially true if the items that are given away are things that you would consider to be basic necessities.
- Seemingly Bored – If you know somebody who, all of a sudden, seems to be frequently distracted or out of touch, then that’s clearly a sign that the person is in some kind of deep thought. Find out what’s going on in that mind with some friendly overtures.
- Writing About Death – People who are contemplating suicide will often express a fascination with death that can be expressed in artwork or writing.
- Running Away From Home – There are many reasons why somebody might run away from home. It doesn’t mean that the person is considering suicide. However, it could be the first step towards getting out of life in general.
- Changes in Eating Habits – Perhaps somebody you know once had a normal, healthy appetite and now doesn’t eat nearly as much. That could be an indication of depression.
- Personality Changes – Somebody who was once bright and bubbly and now seems quiet and reserved is throwing off a signal that he or she is dealing with an issue.
- Slovenly Appearance – If somebody who used to dress to look great is now unconcerned about his or her appearance, then it’s clear that some level of apathy has set in. That could lead to suicide.
- Talk of Suicide – As with Marcus Wheeler, sometimes people will just come right out and say that they want to kill themselves. If you hear that kind of talk, take it seriously.
It’s a tragedy that nobody was able to help save the life of Marcus Wheeler. This is why teen suicide prevention needs to be discussed more. But maybe we can learn from his situation and help others who may be exhibiting similar actions.
If you are a friend, parent or teacher of a young person that you suspect is having thoughts of suicide, the first step is to understand the warning signs of suicide.
Download the free wallet card about the Warning Signs of Suicide. Read these tips about How to Be Helpful To Someone Who is Threatening Suicide.
There is help for young people who are thinking of suicide. Call us! 602-997-2880.
It’s no mystery that we live in a culture driven by appearance. Even if we know something is bad for us, if it will help us look good we can’t seem to turn it down. As the drive for visual perfection continues, young men and women are constantly told that they are not good enough. The battle begins in childhood, with elementary school children reporting that they feel fat or wish they looked a different way.
The National Association for Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders recently reported “a dramatic increase in hospitalizations for eating disorders in children 12 and under.” Sadly “between 1999 and 2006, hospitalizations rose 119 percent.” This didn’t happen overnight and it won’t be solved overnight. Still, there are things parents can do to encourage children from a young age to young adulthood to value themselves and to find that value in places other than their appearance.
Focus on Character Not Curves Be intentional about complimenting character. Take the focus off the body and put it on the brain. Encourage and celebrate academic success. Spend time serving others instead of focusing on self. Invest in your children’s character development more than their physical development and they will naturally learn what is more important.
Make Food Friendly Do not use food as a reward, punishment or incentive. This is a tough one, but if you can put it into practice, you just might save yourself and your child a lot of hurt. Attaching food to success or failure adds emotions that can lead to disordered eating. Try to avoid taking away food as a punishment or implementing consequences for not “clearing the plate” at dinner.
Lose the Scale One of the best things you can do for your teen, and probably for yourself, is to get rid of your scale. Unless you have orders from a doctor to track your weight, it probably isn’t necessary to weigh yourself on a regular basis. If you do choose to keep one around, put it away when not in use. Avoid weighing yourself in front of your kids or letting them weigh themselves.
Strive for Health Not a Number In the same tone of ditching the scale; we really encourage you to strive for a healthy lifestyle. Make an effort to maintain a healthy and balanced diet. As your schedule and budget allows, make meals from scratch using whole foods. Keep healthy snack options in the home and avoid processed foods. Be active, not just through exercise, but also through spending time in activities with the whole family.
Love Yourself You are your child’s first teacher and you have a lot of power in shaping their body image and self-esteem. Choose to make yourself an example of a healthy lifestyle and positive body image. Silence the “fat talk” and be vocal about things you like about your body. Put the focus on talent and strength. Also be mindful of how you speak about other people’s appearance. In employing this tip, you just might find you are feeling better about yourself too.
Put Your Guard Up Mainstream media, youth programming included, is full of body shaming. One study reviewed 134 episodes of popular Disney and Nickelodeon shows and determined that an alarming 87 percent of the female characters ages 10-17 were underweight. Take steps to guard your children from negative body image in the media. Ditch the beauty magazines. Skip the weight loss commercials and don’t choose programs that show weight loss as a path to happiness or portray being underweight as normal or healthy.
Even if it doesn’t develop into a diagnosed eating disorder, a negative body image can impact development. Research from Common Sense Media and others shows that body image is linked to several factors of both social and emotional well-being. So as difficult as it may be, take time to talk to your teens about the issue. And take a stand, unpopular or not, to protect them from influences that impact their body image in a negative way.
It’s summer break and kids have a lot of extra time on their hands.
With studies linking excessive screen time to obesity, depression and attention deficit issues, it is increasingly important for parents to help their teens spend their free time wisely. Breaks from the normal routine are expected this time of year, but it is still crucial for parents to keep their guard up. Technology, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. There are amazing educational and health benefits to the devices to which we have access. However, anything, when misused or overused can be harmful.
As surprising as it might be to many parents, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends children ages 12-18 not have more than two hours of screen time per day. This includes non-violent television, handheld devices, computers and video games. The guidelines further state that video game use should make up no more than 30 minutes of the total screen time in a day. According to one recent article, teens spend an average of seven hours a day and more than 50 hours a week in front of a TV, computer or phone screen!
The AAP warns parents “children with high levels of screen time also have more stress, putting them at risk not only for obesity but for a number of other conditions such as diabetes, mood disorders and asthma.” One study from the National Institute of Health revealed that media portrayals of body image and the “perfect” life led to irrational expectations for adolescents for both themselves and others. This resulted in a disruption to their “normal” social and psychological development, leading to depression.
As mentioned above, mood disorders can often be linked to too much time in front of a screen. In addition, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation study entitled Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8-to 18-year-olds, teens that spend more time interacting with media have lower grades and spend less time reading than their peers.
Recently, links have been discovered between social media and anxiety, especially among adolescents and young adults. Even if social media or an abundance of screen time is not the direct cause of anxiety, it can definitely make it worse. To go a step further, anxiety is linked to depression, the most common mental health disorder among teens and adults in the United States.
Something else to remember is time spent in front of a screen takes away from time spent engaging in active, creative and social activities. All of these areas are crucial to the psychological development of an individual. Online interactions and video games cannot meet the needs satisfied by real life experiences.
So, what is right for your teen? How do you set boundaries and keep them? Here are a few tips to help limit screen time and not lose your sanity.
- Educate Yourself – Set aside some time to research the issue further. Te more you learn, the better decision you will be able to make for your family. aap.org is a great place to start.
- Lead by example – As you make changes for your kids, consider making changes for yourself as well. People, especially children, learn by watching others. Make it a point to follow your own rules for your teen when it comes to screen time for entertainment purposes.
- Keep tech out of the bedroom – This is a huge one. Do not put a TV or video game console in any bedroom. Keep cell phones and tablets charging elsewhere. Sleep deprivation is one of the biggest concerns associated with too much screen time and using electronics right before bed can cause major disruptions to ones sleep cycle.
- Activate parent controls on handheld devices – Most cell phone carriers have parental controls available. For instance, you can set your teen’s phone to automatically stop sending a receiving text messages at a certain time. Some tablets also allow parents to set a daily time limit. Once the daily limit is reached, the device powers down. Other controls include blocking access to violent and pornographic material. Simply put, use the tools available to you. They are there for a reason.
- Provide alternate activities – If you are a parent of teens, then you have undoubtedly heard, “I’m bored,” far more than you care to remember. When you decrease your teen’s screen time, it is helpful to provide other ways for them to occupy their time. Register them for a team sport. Let them try a new activity or class (e.g. art, martial arts, dance). Give them household responsibilities.
- Start young – No need to wait until you have a teen glued to his or her phone 24/7. If you have younger children, start setting boundaries now. Review the guidelines for infants, toddlers and elementary-aged children as they may differ from those for teenagers.
“Thirty years ago, the federal government ruled that young children are psychologically defenseless against advertising. Now, kids see 5,000 to 10,000 food ads per year, most of them for junk food and fast food,” said Dr. Strasburger, MD, FAAP, a member of the AAP Council on Communications and Media. These advertisements glamorize the products without revealing the negative impact of their use or consumption. One can only imagine the barrage of possibly harmful messages our teens are exposed to through extended time spent on social media, online and in front of a television.
Every child is different and ultimately each parent must decide what is best for his or her family. When setting new boundaries gets difficult, trust your gut. Study after study indicates that the health of our nation’s children is at stake. So, as parents, it’s more important than ever make protecting children more important than pleasing them.
- The Newest Teen “Addiction”: Smartphones (doorwaysarizona.com)
- 8 Text Acronyms Teens Use Behind Your Back – Busted! (doorwaysarizona.com)
- 5 Signs Your Child is Being Bullied Online (doorwaysarizona.com)
“Hannah Smith, British Teen, Commits Suicide After Cyberbullying, Trolling; Dad Demands Justice” via Huffington Post
Hannah Smith was only 14 when she hanged herself. According to her father, she did it because of being bullied on the social network Ask.fm, a site that allows users to post questions and answers anonymously online via smart phone or computer.
According to Business Insider, this app has been linked to nine teenage suicides due to the bullying that occurs there. The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre reports, “More often than not the anonymous nature of Ask.fm leads to exchanges of hate speech and cyberbullying.”
Tragedies like Hannah’s happen far too often, now that we live in a connected world. That’s why it’s important for parents to know what’s out there, and what their adolescents and teenagers are up to online.
You may already limit how much time your adolescent spends on Facebook and Instagram or monitor what they post, but chances are your adolescent is more active on several other apps that you don’t even know about. While these major social media sites that you know about are public and reveal users identity, there are several more smart social networking sites or applications (apps), such as Ask.fm, that are anonymous or lend themselves to harmful behavior that parents need to be aware of.
Snapchat’s appeal is that the pictures sent through it disappear in a matter of seconds. The question you have to ask is, what kind of photos are your adolescents sending that they are worried about being saved or passed around? Why should the disappearing aspect be a selling point? The other worry about this app is that photos can easily be screenshot before vanishing in the app itself, making the selling point of this app useless and giving users a false sense of security.
Tinder is a dating app with a reputation for facilitating hook-ups and one night stands. It is intended for young adults but younger and younger users are signing up. The app easily connects users in the same geographic location and allows users to view each other’s photos and instant message each other with the ultimate goal of meeting in person. Online dating is especially dangerous for teens who don’t have the dating or life experience of older users and are more likely to be taken advantage of.
Whisper is an anonymous portal where users can share content and pictures. It lets users share “secrets” that they wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing on other social medias that reveal their identity. The confessions are posted with a graphic of the users’ choice, either one provided in the app or one from their own photo library. The confessions are often sexual or dark in nature, and range from topics about self-harm and assault to invitations for dates or sexual pictures. This app records location, so it can be another way for users to meet others anonymously online and encourages the exchange of confidential or private material.
YikYak is more or less the anonymous Twitter. It’s a social wall where users can post anything they want. While it may seem safer than some apps since it doesn’t collect personal information, there is no content moderation. It is mostly targeted to college students who can spread the word about events and parties, but younger users are using it to learn about these older student’s events or post hurtful comments and rumors about peers. Since it’s anonymous, the bully-er can’t be traced, and neither can the validity of the claim.
Kik is another app with the potential to be dangerous. It is an instant messaging app that allows users to connect with others with nothing but a username. There is no age verification on the app and it is easy to connect and talk with strangers. Any app or site that veils identity lends itself to giving users a false sense of security and they are more likely to engage in dangerous or illicit activity with other users.
This app is one of the number one apps that promote bullying. It is almost exclusively used by kids and allows them to ask questions to other users in their area or school, anonymously. Since it anonymously connects all users in an area, the questions have been used to single out kids for bullying. The remarks are often derogatory and untraceable to the source, just like with YikYak.
Your adolescent may be using these apps innocently enough, like Hanna Smith, who only used the app to get anonymous advice about the skin condition eczema, but others are not. Whatever you allow, make sure to talk to your teen about the dangers of these apps and be aware of the potential behind them.
- The Newest Teen “Addiction”: Smartphones (doorwaysarizona.com)
- 8 Text Acronyms Teens Use Behind Your Back – Busted! (doorwaysarizona.com)
- 5 Signs Your Child is Being Bullied Online (doorwaysarizona.com)
Dr. David Wall, Ph.D., has written an article that was just accepted for publication in Journal of Psychiatric Research titled “Self-harm History Predicts Resistance to Inpatient Treatment of Body Shape Aversion in Women with Eating Disorders: The Role of Negative Affect.” Authors: Olantunji, B.O., Cox, R., Ebesutani, C., Wall, D.
David Wall is a Licensed Psychologist with a PhD from California School of Professional Psychology. He completed his internship at the University of California at Berkeley. He also received his Masters of Divinity from Fuller Seminary, and served as a youth director as well as a Chaplain Candidate in the US Air Force.
Dr. Wall was Director of Psychology at Remuda Ranch for almost 20 years, treating girls and women with eating disorders. He is certified by the International Eating Disorder Foundation to treat eating disorders and is certified by the International OCD Foundation to treat OCD and related disorders. He has presented at national conferences, published articles in scientific journals and co-authored/edited a book on eating disorders.