This is how most moms I know are feeling after watching The Social Dilemma on Netflix. Frustrated, angry, sad, but even more than all of those feelings, they are feeling scared. Scared about how our daily digital diet is impacting not only our teenagers but how it’s shaping and affecting them as adults.
I watched The Social Dilemma the first time with my husband and then we decided we really needed our kids to see it, not only so they could be informed, but because I was super curious about how they would respond. The youngest three (ages 22, 17, and our 15-year-old only daughter) were willing to watch because I made them popcorn and because they know I don’t often ask them to do much.
Going in, I thought if my kids understood how we are being manipulated by social media, by the information we are being fed and the engineering that goes into keeping us scrolling, they’d be alarmed, angry and react by scaling back or taking the app completely off of their phones.
I was wrong.
They watched attentively, they were willing to discuss the film afterward, and we’ve talked about it a few more times since that night. But they didn’t react like I thought they would. In talking with each one, they all said they felt the first half of the film was overdramatic in terms of trying to instill fear in the viewer. In addition, 17 and 15 didn’t see any value in adding the family’s storyline (which I thought did a great job of showcasing what the interviewees were talking about in everyday life).
The statistics on teens and mental health didn’t land for them (though they’ve all experienced classmates and/or friends who have felt anxious to a point of it impacting their daily life, depressed, or even suicidal). They see the increase in teen mental health issues as a result of family problems being experienced rather than resulting from social media use. Interesting…though I don’t think social media use is the only factor involved in the steep increase in mental health issues and teens, I do believe it is a strong contributor to overall teen mental health. And there is certainly no shortage of family problems going around that is augmenting the effects of screen time.
One major takeaway my youngest three talked about with concern is the narrow band of information being fed to them based on previous likes and views, and the resulting divisiveness that they can see is being caused by everyone’s individualized newsfeed. It gave each of them pause when the statement about how we’ll ever be able to agree on what “the truth” is was shared.
That was their big takeaway…
Maybe your family, like mine, watched the film and you’ve had similar concerns now that you know more about what’s going on with these mega-lucrative-media platforms, yet you have no idea what to do next in your family to create meaningful change.
I have some thoughts for you on this.
The first step to any change is awareness. After watching the film, take a few minutes to think about your daily digital use. For example, I mainly spend time on Linkedin and Facebook, I know I get sidetracked multiple times a day scrolling…and I feel frustrated and angry at myself for falling into the trap every.single.day. I never feel better after hopping off of Facebook, in fact, I often feel depleted.
I really took some time to think about WHY I do this (I need a pick me up, I am procrastinating in whatever chore or work I should be doing, I am bored at the moment, I am waiting for my kiddo to come out of school and have 2 minutes of time so, “Why not?”) I could go on and on here, and I’m sure you know and even experience most of these reasons as well.
After awareness and understanding of the habit comes the more difficult task of asking oneself, “Am I going to continue this behavior, or am I going to choose differently? The big step of becoming intentional. And, if I want to change, I need to make the decision to do so and have a PLAN to execute what I’ll do INSTEAD of the normal “go-to” scroll.
Having a plan is key!
My life is busy, just like yours, I am trying to balance marriage, parenting, a job, building a business, some downtime to nourish and replenish my soul…all the things. And I realize social media is important to keep me in front of my target audience as I grow my parent coaching business not to mention that it’s been a great way to stay connected with other people (and make new connections). Giving it up entirely is not an option.
Keeping myself on the task of engaging only at certain times of the day is the right move.
To keep from getting sucked in, I will first turn off my notifications. Second, decide WHEN I will engage. Early morning and before bed is my goal. I am setting myself up for success by putting in place what I WILL do during those moments when I feel compelled to procrastinate and when I’m bored (why do I think being bored is a bad thing?)…there’s a lot of benefit to just sitting still in the quiet, I am going to get comfortable being uncomfortable in the silence of short periods of time.
Just like any other addictive behavior, I’m going to have to go through some uncomfortable times in my life in order to find peace of mind that lives on the other side of discomfort.
Okay, so let’s say you’ve watched this with (or without) your kids, and you want to make some changes with your parenting as it relates to kids and screen time but you don’t know how to make those changes.
Good news, I have some ideas for you!
- Get clear on where you stand on screen time and social media. Do this by going through what I’ve explained above. If you’ve not had rules in the past (or if they’ve fallen by the wayside during COVID) revisit and resolve to be consistent with what you plan to set in place. If you have older kids (10+) sit down with them to discuss the non-negotiables and work with them where you can be flexible. For example, Two non-negotiables might be dinner with family without phones (that means everyone) and no phones between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. period. Flexibility might come in with how many hours per day, how many days per week, getting chores and school work done first…these are the things you talk through with your kids because you will eliminate power struggles if they have buy-in.
- Continue to educate yourself on your child’s physical, mental, and brain development for the stage they are in. We often do a great job as parents educating ourselves about babies and toddlers and then forget (or get too busy) to continue to learn about how our kids change and grow throughout adolescence and how to parent this age group differently (and more effectively). Some great online resources include Spark & Stitch Institute, Grown & Flown, and Common Sense Media. There are hundreds of resources online, google a particular topic and age range, and begin!
- Honestly, the most important thing you can do…Work on your own mental and emotional health. As leaders in our families, we cannot be emotionally attuned to our kids if we are stressed, overwhelmed, going through relationship challenges (all of which are common for most adults, even before COVID hit us) and our kids need us to help them identify, feel, and express their feelings. If we ignore, minimize, or repress our feelings we can’t help them learn to regulate and process their emotions. Human beings are built for connection and fueled by feelings.
- Learn some positive, proven ways to cope with big feelings like anxiety, anger, frustration by practicing meditation. The Calm app is an excellent resource, there are many apps out there and you don’t even really need one…it’s a matter of finding a quiet space for a few minutes, closing your eyes, and paying attention to the inhale and exhale we’ve been birthed with. One of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves is the space to be still and to teach this practice to our kids. Yes, some days you will be more successful than others with this, it’s part of life.
- On the subject of feelings, there are wonderful books on the topic including Permission to Feel Unlocking the Power of Emotions to Help Our Kids, Ourselves, and Our Society Thrive by Marc Brackett, Ph.D.
The reality is this film is a calling for change, it can be nothing more than a drop in the bucket discussion, or a series of discussions in your family with a striving for change, or it can be the conduit for meaningful shifts in your daily life…or it can be the impetus for a shift in our world.
Who would you be if you become more intentional with your social media and screen use? It’s worth pondering and taking the next best step into.