Executive summary

  • Studies and personal experiences indicate that tech-savvy youth are more vulnerable to depression and suicidal ideation than pre-internet generations
  • Parents and youth are dealing with strong barriers to the head-to-heart communication essential to establish a sense of belonging, security and autonomy
  • These barriers to open communication are cyber-powered shame-inspiring experiences and judgment (i.e., human opinions which always contain limited understanding) hyped in the social network
  • Parents can open communication by recognizing their opinions and wisdom are not the same thing, and that in order to be well children need need us to share wisdom, not our opinions

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A recent Fortune article features a CDC study indicating that teens are more depressed than ever even though they are showing signs of less risky behavior involving sex and drugs. This study correlates closely with a study and recent ethnographic portrait of tech-savvy teens done by Dr. Jean Twenge, the author of iGEN.  The greater concern on the horizon is suicidal ideation and increased risk of suicide because depression unchecked can lead to a fatal hopelessness.

This fatal hopelessness is a concern I hear from middle school and high school parents today. Four or five years ago the primary topic was bullying. Now the primary concern is dealing with the uncertainty of not knowing what your tech-savvy teen is contemplating. There is a lack of confidence that teens will seek a parent’s wise counsel before making a life and death decision. For many parents, this may feel like an agonizing guessing game which can increase worry for the parent and stress for the teen.

According to the CDC study, the percentage of young Americans saying they “felt sad or hopeless” rose to 31.5%, a three point spike over the past ten years.

Failure to communicate

In his feature posted on Social Media and Teen Depression: Why They Go Hand in Hand,licensed clinical psychologist, Dr. Jeff Nalin, explains that social media has crippled social skills development, increases pressure to fit into the crowd (seeking validation from peers as a single point of reference for life), and inspires cyberbullying as the reasons why depression among teens is more common and more acute. His solution: “Keeping an open line of communication with your teen is the most important thing that you can do.”

An open line of communication requires your teen to feel safe to share with you the shame-inspiring thoughts and experiences in their lives. The response to shame, however, is to hide for fear of more judgment. We cannot know what our children and teens are thinking, or the experiences in their worlds that pose a threat or a risk to their well-being unless they choose to share them with us.

To overcome this big barrier to communicate consider this question:

Does my child feel safe to share with me their risky and shame-inspiring experiences?

When children do not experience a sense of belonging to their family and/or a peer community, for whatever the reason, this is a mindset of isolation that is ripe for hopelessness. This sense of isolation makes them vulnerable to believe things that are not true (i.e., I am not worthy of love and acceptance), and focus on things that do not really matter (such as, how many followers and likes I have in my social network). In this regard, there is great confusion between wisdom and knowledge which can result in a psychological state of hopelessness. When you are not seeking to discern the difference between wisdom and knowledge it is possible to know too much for your own good.

And yet, we cannot inspire a sense of belonging and security among tech-savvy youth in our homes by fiat. Wisdom must be imparted and is learned through experience, it cannot be not imposed. And in order to impart wisdom, we must learn how to be more humble about the things we thing we know and confident of our children’s own inherent capacity to learn how to become a trustworthy person and build resilience.

How opinions, knowledge and wisdom impact open communication

After studying how pedophiles, internet porn purveyors, bullies and commercial interests successfully engage youth and build trust in order to exploit them, I developed a model of how online experiences have primed youth for relationships with open communication so that parents can engage them to impart wisdom. This is to share some key concepts to make a soulful connection with your tech-savvy teen that inspires a sense of belonging and empowers them to deal with anxiety and other issues like bullying in a healthy way.

Wisdom and knowledge. The advent of the internet and mobile connectivity inspires a power crisis in the parent-child relationship because children can easily perceive that everything they think they need to know they can glean from the internet and social media platforms. There is great confusion between wisdom and knowledge. And capturing a child’s attention in order to impart wisdom so important for dealing with the knowledge of life’s challenges is becoming more difficult.

Knowledge is knowing something; wisdom is knowing what to do with knowledge so that you are blessed and not harmed.

  • For example, a child can have knowledge of cruelty by being bullied, and without wisdom, may believe what the bullies are telling him (you are worthless, nobody wants you, you should kill yourself).
  • So if your daughter is being bullied because she sent a nude photo of herself to a love interest, who later shared it and now it is viral, does that make her a slut?
  • Or if your son became addicted to opiates, does that make him an addict?
  • Well, that depends upon what you choose think and how to respond to this snare, and more importantly what your child chooses to think and believe about him or herself.

The past 15 years of fieldwork, research and personal experience dealing with the sciences of the brain, addiction, prevention, recovery and faith, have taught me that the most important thing we have control over when it comes to the security of our children is our own world view: choosing what to think and how to respond to what is happening in life.

parenting, wisdom

We know that app developers use neuroscience to tap the same reward centers of the brain that inspire the same addiction as a drug. But the most important knowledge we have gained over the past 15 years since the advent of mobile connectivity and social media is that when human opinions become our point of reference for life, this is a toxic phenomenon of the heart and mind that leads to torment. (Think bullying, harassment, hate crimes).

This is why I encourage parents to consider that their opinion is always their own human, limited understanding of a situation or a circumstance, which carries with it a desire to be in control and to be the judge. Our opinions can easily be received as hostile and inspire shame. And then children learn that it is safer to hide their risky and/or painful situations or thoughts. Correction without condemnation is not possible when we are only offering children our opinion. And if our worldview is based upon limited human understanding, we are at risk of hopelessness.

IMPORTANT: When our children are at their lowest points of shame and a feeling of despair, how will we show up and populate the thoughts in their own mind so that they will find the spiritual resilience to stand corrected and well-informed by adversity? Will we agree with the thoughts of despair? Or will we witness their pain and at the same time represent hope and faith and love?

Consider some examples of wisdom thoughts that are devoid of human condemnation.

Wisdom, Interfaith

For additional guidance on strengthening your own capacity to aid a child who suffers from mental and/or behavioral health issues (anxiety, depression, ADD/ADHD, or addiction), check out: The Role of a Parent in Healing a Suffering Child.

If you suspect your child is suffering from depression, do not hesitate to call a counselor or therapist for guidance. To receive a list of counselors and therapists, and/or schedule a session on creating a family culture of resilience, contact Joanna (be sure to include your email address in the message).

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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.