Last Thursday I participated in a leadership retreat with the Coalition of Placer Youth, wherein partner organizations joined middle and high school youth to learn how to work together to improve the lives of young people in our community. The event took place at the Rocklin Police Department with over 70 youth and adults. Below are some of the highlights of a presentation I delivered on how to avoid social media traps. (Disclosure: I am a founding member since 2008 and current chair of the Coalition for Placer Youth.)

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So today I am going to share with you the things that I have learned over the past 13 years of personal experience, fieldwork and research about:

  • The impact of social media on shaping our perspective
  • The nature of social media traps – which I understand as adult issues becoming real experiences
  • Putting the focus on your power, which is an exercise in aiming for the bull’s-eye (to recognize a lie when we encounter it, and defend the truth about our identity as free agents)

POPULAR APPS = ADULT SWIM

Life is all about getting born into and growing up in adult communities with adult issues which I categorize into the following areas: anxiety, addictions, bullying, and sexual exploitation.

All of this is learned behavior at early ages. Think of it as “cut and paste” and carry forward. We learn by imitating.

So in the social network, it is no surprise that with apps like YouTube, and SnapChat or Instagram, it is easy to share extreme ideas about getting high as socially celebrated, or that hostile sexual relations featured in porn and acted out among teens (casual sex and manipulating sexual activity as a power play, demeaning language and treatment of the opposite sex relations) is the way of the world. It is also easy with anonymous apps to engage in clandestine activities that carry risk of harm, such as hooking up with strangers on-line and in person.

See also: Confronting internet porn: Five elements of intimacy every teen must know

And we know from our own experiences and studies that social media apps impact the brain like a drug, by stimulating the same neurotransmitters associated with reward, or feeling good. And it is easy to get hooked. A recent feature on 60 minutes examined how the social media companies are specifically focused on using knowledge of the dopamine response system in the brain to keep people constantly checking their device for updates and incoming notifications… no matter how trivial.

See also: How the brains of tech-savvy youth are hacked, and what to do about it

In these two main ways, 1) featuring adult issues that inspire anxiety and compromising behavior and 2) intensifying the addictive capacity of the apps can result in the device becoming a single point of reference for life.

LIES IN THE SOCIAL NETWORK

When social media experiences become a single point of reference for life, it is easy to believe things that are not true, and focus on things that do not really matter. In this way, a lie can become a real experience that murders the truth – if you allow it in your own mind.

The above image offers a list of examples which I have gathered from conversations with youth and research on the impact of mobile connectivity on young hearts and minds. You can see how the adult issues of anxiety, bullying, addiction, sexual exploitation and suicide are hyped. The cyber-social peer connections can impact the perspective of a young mind by inspiring a sense of isolation and/or agreeing with risky conduct as compulsory. One educator explained it as “peer pressure on steroids.”

In his study of adolescents, Dr. Chap Clark, HURT 2.0 finds this internet generation of teens as incredibly lonely, isolated and feeling a sense of abandonment. They are desperately searching for a sense of strong community – of belonging to something greater than yourself. My conversations with youth lead me to believe that it is beyond peer pressure: I refer to it as “cyber-stress” which literally impacts their physiological and psychological health. Social media use carries with it the risk to become disconnected from the truth about their power as spiritual, creative, intelligent and caring beings that can leave them feeling incredibly stranded and isolated at home and on campus.

See also: Teen identity and social media

The most important point about this impact of social media on young minds is the perception that their parents could never understand or accept them because their experiences can be so intensely emotional. Many of these emotions resulting from the attacks on human dignity inspiring an overwhelming sense of shame which makes you hide from help for fear of judgment.

TRAPS/SNARES IN THE SOCIAL NETWORK

Think of social media traps as any on-line experience that convinces you of things that are not true, and focusing on things that don’t really matter.  And the risk is that you give up your power to be free by capitulating or agreeing to engage.

This is a list of some of the social media traps; these are indeed engagements or ongoing dynamics in on-line relationships, not one time events – which is why I also call them snares (a thing likely to lure or tempt someone into harm or error).

  • Cyberbully drama is one of the biggest concerns of parents because cyber-connectivity makes it easy to isolate and target a child to the point where it may not seem survivable. It is a more commonplace experience and has a more significant impact of being marginalized to the point of inspiring suicide.
  • Sexual exploitation. One of the first things youth experience, is attacks on their sexuality: Romeo pimps (predators finding vulnerable girls on-line, mimicking trust, and wooing them into believing they are interested in a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship) and pedophiles. Both types of predators mimic interest in the child and then exploit them.
  • Peer sexting and sexual aggression. The opposite sex are engaging in hostile relations that confuse intimacy and dominance with gratuitous sex that demean the dignity of their humanity. American Girls by Nancy Jo Sales offers an ethnographic portrait of the impact of social media on the teen opposite sex relations – there is a trend use sexuality as a means to dominate, manipulate and control others and to be perceived as a celebrated sexual powerhouse.
  • Extreme use and abuse of drugs and alcohol is glorified on-line. It can seem so normal. The trap here is risk of addiction if use and abuse is not checked.

When I started this walk with tech-savvy youth and families 13 years ago, meth addiction was on the decline and prescription pill addiction was on the rise, which has since evolved into a heroin epidemic.

Much of the substance use and abuse activity among youth is clandestine. Cyber connectivity makes it easy to access drugs and learn about the different ways people are using and abusing drugs and alcohol. It is possible to order pharmaceuticals and other drugs on-line without a prescription.

To learn more about having conversations with your teen about drugs and alcohol, go to: Coalition for Placer Youth.

  • Engagements promoting extreme violence and self-harm are also a trap when youth encounter bad actors who convince them that the only way to seek and secure justice, is by physical abuse and/or murder/suicide.

The first two photos in the above slide are of memes that inspire harm to self and others.

  • Slenderman – is a meme that surfaced as a creepy character whose back story is leading children into very dark places. This meme was associated with a couple of Wisconsin teens who attempted to murder a classmate by luring her into the woods and stabbing her many times. They claimed to be following his orders or commands.
  • Blue Whale Challenge – this is a self-harm meme-app that challenges youth to agree to do what the app tells them over a 50 day period. Some of the self-harm acts are to cut an image of the whale into their arm, and the final day gives instructions to kill yourself. This meme-app is associated with a cluster of suicides in Russia at the beginning of this year and in the last two to three months there have been a few suicides of young teens associated with this same meme-app.

Remember the slide about the lies? When young people believe that their parents or other trusted adults cannot accept them because of their experiences for fear of judgment, it kills the open communication essential to impart wisdom and secure help to release them from the snare.

DIGITAL NATIVES AND SOUL POWER

And now for the good news! So while a lie, can become a real experience, it is also true that liberty in the form of God-given intelligent life and free will already belongs to the soul.

Soul power that belongs to all of humanity is the great equalizer which offers hope for young and old alike.

This is the mustard seed of faith that makes a free society possible.

Because a handful of people acted on this mustard seed of faith in the founding of the United States of America, an atheist has the right to stand in the town square and declare there is no God. This is power to choose your own thoughts and actions that can never be taken, but is so easily surrendered to the bully, the drug or the device. It is power that cannot be manipulated from outside; it is actually protected from within.

This is the authority in you, me and in our children.

Young and old alike are born with this inner capacity for self-determination which involves faculties of the soul that include memory (i.e., the brain records everything it sees and experiences like a video recorder, without determining whether or not it is true); the intellect (executive capacity to reason and learn the truth about your identity as a spiritual, caring, powerful being; the will (which is the capacity to choose what to believe about and how to respond to what is happening and what the brain has recorded).

This slide also features the archetype of the digital native, who is born in 1990 or later and cannot imagine the world without the internet. Their souls are ignited, and they are incredibly vulnerable searching for authenticity, and also recognizing authority as a relational experience that engages their intellect and will with respect for their inherent capacity to learn how to use it wisely.

More than anything they value our trust.

So in this way, social media has changed the dynamic for leadership in the home: parents are household executives and children are emerging executives. Anyone with the device needs to learn how to think like the quarterback. (More on this in the Fresh Start manual)

Aim for the bull’s-eye

With this understanding of a person’s inherent power to choose what to believe and how to respond to life’s experiences, I encourage you to think about avoiding the traps of social media as an archery lesson.

In archery, the technical term for anything that lands outside the bull’s-eye is called “sin”. So think of sin as error, or “off the mark”. And in this regard, as snare or a trap is a way to keep you caught up in an error loop of thought and action – an engagement or dynamic that torments your soul.

So it helps to think of the experiences in life, especially in a cyber-powered society, as outside of bull’s-eye because people are imperfect and prone to error, young and old alike. While the bull’s-eye, on the other hand, is that sweet spot in the center of the realm of your own heart and mind, where there is a measure of perfect peace, because love casts out fear.

Think of aiming for the bull’s-eye as your access point to wisdom that offers insights to know better and do better in all circumstances.

 WE ARE FAULT TOLERANT

So this past decade of personal experience, fieldwork and research has taught me that the human condition is indeed fault tolerant. We have the ability to recognize a lie when we encounter and/or experience it, and then choose to defend the truth in our own minds by aiming for the bull’s-eye, to seek wisdom. (I think of lies as thoughts and experiences that torment and are complex, such as a bully dynamic in relationships. While the truth is usually simple thoughts and experiences that bring about a measure of peace, empower others and transcend religious dogma. The wisdom thought that liberty already belongs to the soul, and cannot be taken, but is easily surrendered to the bully, the drug or the device is an example of an eternal truth.)

This is what it means to become the quarterback of your own life. To defend the truth about your personal power to be free.

And so our children are exposed to adult issues at early ages in the cyber-powered society, and will experience and witness extreme emotion that can inspire keeping secrets making them vulnerable to risky traps. In the social network, we are all swimming in a sea of judgment wherein shame can inspire youth to keep secret the harmful relationships and experiences.

In this context, avoiding traps is as much a recovery exercise as it is a prevention endeavor. If we or a loved one falls into a trap, it is possible to stand corrected. While it is an inside job, loved ones can be supported in their struggle to become free from a trap.

For example, a daughter who is bullied after a nude photo she sent to a love interest was widely distributed, or was snagged into a sex trafficking ring, is not a slut unless she agrees with that experience. She has the power to choose to believe that she is a magnificent daughter who deserves to be loved, not used and exploited. With support from family and therapy if needed, she has the internal capacity to learn from the experience how to set a new course of thought and action for her life moving forward. To stand corrected, to become a better version of herself without living in shame.

Similarly, a son who is hooked on oxy is not hopelessly lost unless you choose to agree with that experience. The power of the parent is to choose not to agree with the addict behavior and hold fast to the truth in the bull’s-eye of their own heart and mind about the identity of their child as a divine idea in the mind of God with the same powers of the soul as a person who is not addicted to oxy. This is also how to cultivate resilience when a loved one is at their lowest, hopeless point: to reflect back hope, mirror the goodness inside a loved one who is suffering, and at the same time hold up the standard for a better life (i.e., show them the way).

What addiction science teaches us is that recovery happens when a person recognizes their happiness is aligned with quality relationships, not with the fear and fakery of drug addiction – or any addiction for that matter, including internet addiction. Freedom can indeed be found as a rebound response to trauma and addiction. And it is something that cannot be manipulated from outside; it is an inside job on the part of the loved one suffering from addiction with support of family and community.

To learn more about the power of love and suffering in the family, go to: The Role of a Parent in Healing a Suffering Child.

Some social media rules to live by:

  • No secrets, no surprises. Secrets typically harbor risk.
  • Transparency is key. All family members use age-appropriate apps and parents have passwords.
  • Only download apps that have been reviewed for pros and cons, as well as potential malware.
  • Only post and share content that you would be okay for your mother to see.
  • Let your friends know when you stop monitoring texts and feeds at the end of the day.
  • Use auto-replies to regulate use of social media so as to focus on other activities.

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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, Founder & CEO of Core Connectivity
Photo by: Victoria Hatch

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.