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Instagram and Your Kids: What would Piaget Say?

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By Meg Meeker, MD|

Amy is a junior at an Ivy League University. She recently commented that many of her friends spend time and money glamming up for shots to post on Snapchat or Instagram. The point? To get “Likes” of course.

The power of that one click word in the lives of coeds in top-tier colleges, troubled teens, and adolescents of all stripes gains momentum daily. Interestingly, the word isn’t “respect, love or admire” – it is “like.” What a silly, meaningless word. But it is changing the personalities and identities of our teens and young adults everywhere.

The word is trouble for teens and young adults and here’s why. The great psychologist Jean Piaget posited years ago that there are four stages of cognitive development children experience before they become adults. These stages are: sensorimotor stage (0-2), pre-operational stage (2-7), concrete operational stage (7-11) and the formal operational stage (12 and up.)

In this fourth stage, Piaget describes what he calls the adolescent imaginary audience. This is the condition where the immature mind conceives that everyone outside of them watches their every move.  You remember this. At 16, you were embarrassed by acne because you believed that the moment you walked into class, all eyes would stare at the lone pimple on your chin. Or the high school soccer star who practiced endlessly in his backyard to millions of imaginary cheering fans. It felt at once wonderful but awful. All eyes are on you because you are so significant and yet, those same eyes see your greatness (usually imaginary too) as well as your flaws.

Allowing our kids’ fragile egos to be shoveled ‘likes’ or ‘dislikes’ day after day is cruel. Click To Tweet

What Piaget didn’t foretell was that his theories were going to become reality. The elusive imaginary adolescent audience would dissolve into a quasi-imaginary audience in the form of  Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter where anyone could see any teen at any time. We could call the audience real but in fact, it isn’t wholly real. Yes, real people view pictures and posts, but they do so in a dangerous vacuum. Their responses are dissociated from relationships, feelings or exchange of truth. Most significantly, they feed the adolescent ego that craves attention from the imaginary audience. And herein lies the real danger. Piaget described a stage that teens move through in order to mature into psychologically healthy adults who can think beyond their own egos and learn compassion, empathy, and generosity.

Instagram and the like trap young adults and teens in this fourth stage by reaffirming the ego’s need to be fed hour after hour, day in and day out. That attention is the tiny icon thumb pointing up or pointing down.

The elusive imaginary adolescent audience has dissolved into a quasi-imaginary audience in the form of  Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter.

As good parents, we need to understand that Piaget was right. Allowing our kids’ fragile egos to be shoveled ‘likes’ or ‘dislikes’ day after day is cruel. It prevents them from becoming fully formed, clear-thinking and happy adults. In fact, do something bold today. Ask yourself why you are on Instagram and social media?  The truth is, it makes each of us feel better when we look happier/more successful/prettier etc. than our peers. Snapchat and Instagram are nothing but ‘show-off’ zones for the insecure. And I’ll admit – I’m insecure.  If you and I as mature adults feel better or worse with likes or dislikes, think how much more profoundly a young teen feels with them? Are you willing to post a photo of yourself without your makeup or when you just got out of bed? I didn’t think so.

Snapchat and Instagram are nothing but ‘show-off’ zones for the insecure.

Shrinking the ego to its healthy size takes years, so help your kids. Their minds and intellects are nothing to fool around with. Either keep them off social media altogether (yes this can be done and I have many mothers in my practice who can prove it) or limit your kids’ – particularly your daughters’ – participation in it to 30 minutes a day. You will be amazed how much better they will feel about life, themselves and yes, how much healthier they will be psychologically.

That’s what Jean Piaget would do.

Ask Dr. Meg: When Teens Can’t Sleep

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Os proponemos este post de la Dra. Meeker sobre el sueño y los adolescentes. Los problemas derivados de la falta de sueño de los adolescentes repercuten en toda la familia.

Hi Dr. Meeker

My 15- year -old daughter sometimes has trouble falling asleep and staying asleep.  When this happens, she becomes anxious which then makes the whole sleep situation worse.  We have tried many typical things:  electronics are put away, the room is dark, use of a mediation tape and sound machine, getting ready for bed and going to bed around the same time, turning the alarm clock so that she can’t see the time, and sometimes a warm shower.  She says she isn’t concerned or worried about anything.  Any other suggestions?  What are your thoughts about the use of melatonin supplements?  Thank you for your time.

-Mom of Sleepy Teen

Dear MST-

If I had a nickel for every teen that has difficulty sleeping I’d be a millionaire. Here’s what can happen to teens. Many have trouble sleeping and the reasons are varied: sleep apnea, sleep disorders, fatigue, overstimulation and busyness. I don’t know much about your daughter, but if she is a typical American teen, I can tell you that she is probably more tired than you think and fatigue plays a critical role in poor sleep. Just like infants, when teens are over tired, they can’t fall asleep or stay asleep. Insomnia can become a real problem because the harder they try to sleep, the more frustrated they become and this leads to poorer sleep.

Before you do anything, pay attention to her sleep cycles. Does she snore? If so, she could have sleep apnea and this can cause chronic fatigue that can worsen sleep. Does she fall asleep and then awaken after one or two hours? If so, she may have a sleep disorder. If she has either of these, take her to her doctor. If these are not true, then she may suffer from issues common to most teens.

Most children ages 14-18 lack a healthy rhythm of activity alternating with quiet in their lives. They live in constant over-drive. Too much auditory, visual or physical stimulation supercharges them, and they experience constant adrenaline surges with few or no quiet moments during the day. Your daughter needs a routine where she isn’t plugged in all the time. The best thing that you can do for her is to establish a couple of hours during the day when she can be with a screen (computer, television, phone, Ipad) and then make her put them away. Even if she is stimulated all day but stops at 6 pm, this could be too much for her because her brain can’s turn off the stimulations from earlier in the day. She must have scheduled quiet in her days so her brain can have a break.

Finally, take a hard look at her schedule. Is she over booked? She should have several days during the week when she comes home before or near dinnertime and has a few hours to relax. Everyone needs downtime and in my experience, most teens either don’t have it or if they do, they are afraid of boredom so they turn on a screen. The best thing that your daughter can do for her sleep is to take more walks during the day with you by her side or at least without her phone on.

Try hard to rein her in and infuse quiet and some rhythm into her days. You are doing all the right things with her sleep hygiene so keep doing them. I’m not an advocate of using supplements to help kids sleep, but sometimes 2-3 mg of melatonin can help in a pinch. Sleepytime tea, warm milk with a little honey can also help. Make sure to let her sleep in on the weekends and if she still can’t sleep after a month of these changes, talk to your doctor.

Bullies, Run! Beth Maday Is On the Loose

Meg Meeker, M.D.

Picture: Jeremy, Robin, Meg and Beth

Beth Maday is no ordinary high school counselor.

She seems to have single-handedly tackled the problem of bullying in her high school and won. At least, that‘s what one young man, Jeremy Flannery, says.

Mercilessly Bullied

From grade school through high school, Jeremy was mercilessly bullied. By the spring of his junior year in high school, his mother, Robin, was seriously considering moving her family across the country so that Jeremy might find a school where he wasn’t bullied.

Seven years ago, Jeremy’s father died of cancer leaving his mother with three young children. In addition to grieving her husband’s death, she had to help Jeremy keep his spirits up at a school where kids verbally chided him for being different.  Robin tried homeschooling him. That helped, but he missed other kids.

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LuAnne: A Lesson for Every Mother

Meg Meeker M.D.

My friend, LuAnne Crane, recently made one of the hardest decisions of her life.

She decided to leave a job she has loved for 30 years and be home with her high school-aged son.

For every mother who has lived the tension of working outside the home and caring for children, you know her angst. She loves her kids and wants to keep them as her first priority. But she loves her job and knows that God has gifted her with a passion for it. LuAnne’s situation is unique, though. She doesn’t have young children at home. As a matter of fact, three have left home and only one high schooler remains. So why leave a job she is called to and stay home? That’s where we mothers need to pay attention.

LuAnne has realized a truth that many of us mothers with older children miss: our teens need us more than our grade-schoolers. LuAnne sees that her son will be facing some of his toughest challenges yet. His friends may want him to do stupid things. So who will help him? LuAnne.

He will need to learn to drive, figure out whether he wants to date, struggle with friends who will drink, smoke weed, and take drugs. College is around the corner, and he will question himself repeatedly about whether he should go, where he should apply, or whether he should work. If he does apply to college, rejection letters will come and he will be shaken. Who will hear him as he works through the answers? His mom.

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Bang With Friends—The Latest App for Facebook

Meg Meeker, M.D.

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Bang With Friends is the latest app for Facebook. It’s a brand-new way for you to ask your Facebook friends for sex.

Forget roses, chocolates, or an expensive trinket. You no longer have to think about another person in order to express love; all you need to do is satisfy your own banal instincts by downloading this app, and Voila! You’ll see pictures of your friends with the button, “click to bang,” underneath. If they have the app installed, they’ll get a notification that you want to get together.

No parent in her right mind wants her daughter or son to engage in this type of ridiculous and demeaning behavior, so take a look at the apps that your teen or preteen has on his or her phone. Maybe she doesn’t want to participate, but she may because she doesn’t want to look like the prude in her group. How sad is this for our children?

First of all, the idea of soliciting or engaging in “sex” via electronic gadgetry is for those who don’t have the mental or emotional integrity to come face to face with their sexual partner or potential partner. They might argue that being in the same room with their sexual partner is unnecessary because, well, cyber sex really isn’t sex, is it? But that’s not what bothers me most about this app. The real sordidness of this lies with the  extreme lack of intimacy and debasement of the individual.

Add to that the fact that the one asking for sex does so with multiple partners. Those who agree to have sex with numerous people would argue that monogamy—even “cyber monogamy”—is outdated and reflects the values of an emotionally inhibited, prudish, sex-fearing person. Quite the opposite is true. In fact, those who love sex and get the most out of it are the ones who don’t throw it about, allowing it to become trash in another person’s yard.

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Think Ads Don’t Affect Kids? Think Again

Meg Meeker, M.D.

Years ago, we killed Joe Camel. He was preying on kids and as a united body of parents and concerned adults, we told the cigarette companies that our kids weren’t fair game. Other than the cigarette manufacturers, everyone is happy that the large-snouted ugly beast is gone. Since he went away, public awareness of the effects of advertising has increased. We know that our kids—especially teens and preteens—are extremely influenced by sexy, luring advertisements. And they are particularly vulnerable when adult behaviors are the focus of the ads.

Pediatrics just released a study looking at the effects of advertising alcohol to 7th to 12th graders.

The study found that exposure to alcohol commercials not only increases a child’s likelihood of using alcohol, but it also leads him or her to have problems during his or her later teen years.

They state, “Younger adolescents appear susceptible to the persuasive messages contained in alcohol commercials broadcast on TV, which sometime results in a positive affective reaction to the ads. Alcohol ad exposure and the affective reaction to those ads influence some youth to drink more and experience drinking-related problems later in adolescence.”

So here we have it. Marketing stuff to our kids changes their behavior. But we’ve known this for years. Joe Camel taught us that kids buy cigarettes when they see ads and now we know that when kids see alcohol ads, they drink more.

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