Stories abound regarding the pitfalls of using and abusing technology. Today’s youth are inundated with opportunities to “connect” yet they have become the most disconnected generation. Social lives are being replaced with social media. As the research pours in, it’s becoming crystal clear that the demands of being powered on 24/7 are taking a toll on our tweens and teens.
One of the key tasks of adolescence is to develop a sense of self. Among its many benefits, a healthy sense of self allows us to know and like ourselves, make better decisions and resist negative peer pressure. One of the issues making it harder for the Millenials and beyond to develop a strong sense of self from within is the obsession with one’s outward virtual image online. Tweens and teens are challenged to rely on their own intuition and inner guidance when bombarded with feedback and opinions on everything from selfies to social outings.
Self-awareness is an essential life skill but it’s difficult, if not impossible, to develop in a frenzied, hectic environment. It takes time, quiet solitude, reflection, feedback and practice. It is a life-long process, therefore it’s critical for kids to develop good habits early. Learning to be mindful and to listen to your inner authentic voice contributes greatly to a deeply gratifying, successful life.
New research has expanded our understanding of the brain in numerous, exciting ways. According to renowned psychiatrist and best-selling author, Daniel Siegel M.D., during adolescence, the brain changes in important and, at times, challenging ways. How attention is focused – especially during adolescence – plays an important role in shaping the growth of the brain.
In today’s culture, however, the cards are stacked against our children. We know the benefits of making time for reflection and self-awareness yet our kids are often living in a frenzied, high-tech, disconnected way. What’s a parent to do?
Monitor your time spent using screens and technology. Youth surveys consistently indicate that parents don’t practice what they preach. What message do you send when you are texting while driving, responding to emails during your child’s basketball game, and using the phone during dinner? Positive role modeling is essential. Put down the phone and tablet and turn off the television to really connect with your children every day, even if only for a few minutes. Life is busy but they need to experience inter-personal, uninterrupted connection.
Model how to be mindful. Make sure your children see you taking quiet time to read, meditate, pray or enjoy a cup of tea. Seek out opportunities for your children to explore mindfulness. A yoga class is a great start.
Encourage your children to trust their instincts. Point out times you’ve listened to yours and had a positive result. Better yet, share a time you didn’t listen to your inner voice and had a poor outcome. Learning from mistakes is golden.
Journaling is an excellent way for a child to explore within. It is also an especially good way for adolescents who tend to ruminate on negative thoughts to “download” those feelings on paper, particularly before a big event, test or sports performance. Unfortunately, kids are so busy these days that simply finding time to write is a challenge. Furthermore, unless your child enjoys writing, the blank pages of a journal can feel overwhelming. Seek out an activity book or fill-in-the-blank type of journal or diary as a start. Encourage just a few minutes a day to start and ensure your child’s privacy.
Get outside and enjoy a break in nature. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, links the lack of nature in the lives of today’s wired generation to some of the most disturbing childhood trends, such as the rises in obesity, attention disorder and depression. The brain is like a muscle and needs both work and rest. Current research is showing how even a short walk outside – without headphones – allows the brain time to reorganize itself and perform better.
Your children will likely resist your disconnection efforts and claim to be “too busy” for some of these recommended activities. Start small and be persistent. Just as adults guide children in other aspects of self-care and making choices, we must be diligent in helping kids find the time to be quietly introspective, outwardly active and unplugged. By helping kids disconnect, modeling that behavior, and offering active alternatives you can help them tune into themselves, their family and the world around them – not just the device they hold in their hand. •
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Mary Ellen Young is co-author of ELEMENTS for girls, a self-discovery book and bracelet project available at www.authenticme.biz and on Amazon. She is the president of Authentic ME and founder of the non-profit organization Helping Girls Navigate Adolescence. www.hgna.org