I recently came across an article in Psychology Today about the correlation between social media and anxiety. This is of great interest to me, because parenting tech-savvy teens requires us to better understand how the young hearts and minds in our families and communities are experiencing life with cyber-powered social networks. One thing I have learned is to never assume you know what their experience is, but rather, seek to become a trusted resource so they can tell you about it and then you can impart your own wisdom for them to consider. And in order to become that trusted resource, it is important to do a little homework so you can be somewhat educated in your conversations with youth.
So here is something that I found very interesting, and perhaps a way to begin a conversation with your child about the quality and value of true friendships and their own anxiety level about their life right now. The Psychology Today article pointed to a finding that the bigger the network of “friends” in your social media platform, the greater the stress and anxiety. How many of our young people are thinking that pursuing and catering to a bigger following would make them feel better, not worse?
Indeed the science of psychology with regard to the use of social media tells us that the need for human connection is not about the quantity of people in your network, but rather the quality of a handful of relationships that are truly trustworthy.
These are fewer authentic relationships (wherein you’re feeling welcome and accepted, including the pursuit of a personal connection with God) that fulfill the spiritual imperative to belong. It is when we feel this disconnect, this feeling of not really belonging, or “getting got”, then we experience anxiety. And social media can inspire a feeling of being “left out” or not “good enough” to belong and inspire anxiety in this way. So whether people pursue social media because of the anxiety of feeling left out (i.e., I am nobody unless I have a profile on social media) or people experience anxiety because they do not get enough likes and followers, it is most definitely a chicken and egg question – and deeply personal.
So in my mind, the big question for the modern parent is how to embrace feelings of anxiety without becoming anxious ourselves about the troubles of our own children? How can we help our own loved ones respond to anxiety, and anxiety-disorders, with confidence?
Embracing anxiety as an opportunity to strengthen bonds
Yesterday morning Dr. Robin Zasio, the Founder and CEO of the Anxiety Treatment Center in Sacramento, spoke at the Women’s Association for Addiction Treatment monthly meeting. Her talk focused on understanding the nature of anxiety and how anxiety disorders present themselves in unique ways that require different types of treatments (modalities).
Zasio addressed three main categories of anxiety: obsessive compulsive disorder, social anxiety, and panic disorder. “The anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, and often general anxiety is misdiagnosed [as a disorder],” she said. “Each type of anxiety disorder requires a different treatment.”
What a comforting thought that it is possible to identify and specifically treat a particular condition that inspires hostility and chronic suffering. Below are some of the insights I gleaned from Dr. Zasio that may be helpful for parenting tech-savvy youth:
Anxiety serves a purpose. It helps keeps us safe. We become anxious when there is good reason, and then we are motivated (by the lower brain, known as the amygdala), to take proactive steps to avoid a threat or danger. For example, we secure our windows and doors at night, and buckle our seat belts to promote a more safe environment. So experiencing some anxiety is not necessarily a bad thing, but we need to respond to it in a healthy way.
Address fear as an experience that can be tamed. Anxiety disorders requires specific treatments that will actually respond to the need to acknowledge the fear experience, and not make it worse. “Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), for example is not helped by cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT),” Zasio said. “You cannot use logic to respond to fear. The effective treatment is exposure and response prevention (ERP), which helps the patient recondition their response to a [fear] trigger that inspires avoidance of a situation or circumstance.”
According to Zasio, the idea is to create situations wherein the patient can learn to be in control. “The idea of exposure therapy is that you do not leave when the anxiety is heightened, and then there is a desensitization and an experience of actually being in control,” she said. So if a person is suffering from social anxiety, Zasio explains that you do not try to talk to them about why their fear is irrational because the lower brain is in the driver seat, misfiring signals indicating real danger even though there is not. The only way to address this disorder is to help the person experience control, one baby-step at a time. “We start with a level one of exposure, such as calling up businesses in the telephone directory to find out what time they close,” she said.
- If you or a loved one is experiencing anxiety, contact Dr. Robin Zasio at The Anxiety Treatment Center in Sacramento, to learn more about your condition and treatment options.
- To create a family culture that features open communication and trust essential to impart wisdom and strengthen family relationships in a cyber-powered world, go to Fresh Start.
About: We are a non-profit education center founded in Roseville, CA to strengthen the parent-child bond in a hyper-connected world. Our mission is to restore families with the mustard seed of faith that declares liberty already belongs to the soul because one God, the Creator of all humanity, grants every human being intelligence and free will to choose what to believe, and that is power that can never be taken, but is easily surrendered to the bully, the drug or the device. To that end, ten percent of all proceeds are donated to prison ministries. Your donations are greatly appreciated. (Donations are payable to Banana Moments Foundation).
Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and consultant on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber-powered world. She is a former technology executive trained in behavioral science at U.C. Berkeley, a mother of two grown sons, and an author of books for practical guidance on parenting, growing up and family life in the network culture. As a family and technology culture advisor, Joanna has appeared on 103.9FM The Fish, 710AM Keeping Faith in America, 1380AM The Answer, and Examiner.com.