Help Tweens and Teens Clean Up Their Feeds

Eliminate the posts that lead to negative emotions, and load up on stuff that feeds your soul. By Caroline Knorr 
Help Tweens and Teens Clean Up Their Feeds

You know that girl from TV — the one whose Instagram always looks perfect even with #nofilter? Or what about that amazing singer on musical.lywhom you can’t believe is only 14? And then there’s that kid whose Snapchat stories of Coachella got 500 views. Your kids may be following people like this right now. Obsessing. Over. Every. Detail. And starting to feel kind of crappy about it.

Keeping tabs on the rich, famous, and just-plain-cool is nothing new, of course. But social media can take that fixation to a pretty dark place. The feeling is common enough that some doctors are calling it social media anxiety disorder (SMAD) — although what most kids have is more like FOMO… on steroids. While it’s tough to see your kid in despair, there’s a good solution that doesn’t require an all-out social media ban: Just help your kid clean up their feed.

Self-comparison is a natural part of the tween and teen years. And for most kids, so is social media. While there are plenty of good things kids get out of their online connections, sometimes the combo can lead to a negative feedback loop that gnaws away at them. Depending on whom they’re following and what’s going on in their lives, their overall self-assessment can cycle from wistful (“I wish I was like that”) to highly critical (“What’s wrong with me that I can’t be like that?”). Even for kids who know when to close their laptops and move on, their self-esteem may take a hit. And for the more self-critical, anxiety and depression are real risks.

If your kid mostly enjoys social media but suffers the occasional bout of self-doubt, help them find a healthier balance. Ask if — or what — they’re already doing to take care of themselves. They may already be tweaking their social media feeds to limit posts that make them feel bad. Or they may be intentionally trying to curb the endless scrolling through the cool kid’s Insta. Work together to prune out the parts of their social media feeds that trap them into judgy comparisons, and encourage the stuff that bolsters positive social connections, supportive relationships, and validation of their inner qualities.

Encouraging your kids to see and appreciate their individual strengths has always been a part of parenting. And learning to stop comparing yourself to others is a part of growing up. By helping kids clean up their feeds, you’re bringing together two critical aspects of raising kids in the digital age. Try these tips:

Identify the triggers. Maybe it’s a certain couple who always look happy and in love, when your kid really wants a romantic relationship. Maybe it’s ads from a dog-toy delivery service that makes your kid miss your old mutt. Explore what’s behind their emotions. Sharing your own FOMO-induced feelings will likely get your kid to open up. Once they recognize the cause of their emotions, they can take steps to manage triggers.

Fine-tune levels of engagement. All social media offers ways to see and hear less from your contacts — without totally unfriending them. Check out settings such as these from popular platforms like Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter: unfollow (you’re still friends, but their posts won’t show up in your feed); hide post (see fewer posts from someone); snooze (temporarily stop seeing posts); mute (turn them off for a while); and do not disturb (temporarily block the person).

Turn off notifications. Most social media apps send updates — and none of them are life-and-death. To prevent your kid from interruptions — especially ones that might trigger negative thoughts — you can encourage your kid to check their social media once or twice at a certain time of day — say, 4 p.m. That might be a stretch, but you can still encourage them to turn off notifications either in the app itself or on their phone.

Follow people who nourish your soul. Kim Kardashian may be all over social media, but there are lots of folks who post uplifting, life-affirming, thoughtful, inspiring things that get kids thinking — and maybe even behaving — in ways that make them feel good about themselves. Follow these kinds of people.

Suggest apps to help with focus. Just as you can use technology to excess, you can use it to rein yourself in. These productivity apps help keep kids on task, boost concentration, and remind you to stop doing stuff that’s not good for you.

Eighth Grade Is a Movie About Middle School That Will Leave Adults in Tears

Slate

Bo Burnham’s funny, original debut feature is astonishingly mature.

A teenage girl in a swimming pool.
Elsie Fisher in Eighth Grade.
A24

“The topic of today’s video is being yourself,” stammers 13-year-old Kayla (Elsie Fisher) in one of the self-recorded advice videos she periodically posts to her YouTube channel. It’s hard to imagine any topic on which this insecure, awkward girl, with her apologetically slumped shoulders and digitally airbrushed-out acne, would make for a less convincing expert. As her generally unhappy middle school experience enters its final excruciating week, Kayla contends with some standardly bad teenage experiences: being awarded the superlative of “Most Quiet” at an end-of-year ceremony, being invisible to the “Best Eyes”–winning classmate she’s crushed out on (Luke Prael), and being pestered by her loving, hovering single dad (Josh Hamilton) to—get this—stop looking at Instagram over dinner and talk to him.

Kayla will later deal with scarier and dodgier situations than these run-of-the-mill indignities, even if Eighth Grade mercifully never goes as dark as first-time writer-director Bo Burnham sometimes seem to hint it will. The funny, heartfelt, and utterly original Eighth Grade is a movie about middle school starring real middle school–age kids, to which one might enjoyably take actual middle schoolers—so long as they and their parents are willing to tolerate a reasonably high degree of shared comic embarrassment. Whether or not you currently have a preteen child, every adult has been one, and it’s almost neurologically impossible not to avert your face in burning-cheeked sympathy when Kayla, face to face with the popular girls she both longs to impress and fears like the ego-destroying monsters they can be, can only summon the emptiest sycophantic banter. “By the way, I like your shirt a lot. It’s, like, so cool.” Long pause. “I have a … shirt … too.”

Eighth Grade alternates such moments of hyperreal cringe comedy with more stylized scenes filmed from Kayla’s point of view. A visit to her boorish beloved’s Instagram feed sends her down a social media spiral, captured in a montage of Snapchat selfies and BuzzFeed quizzes set to Enya’s hypnotic New Age classic “Orinoco Flow (Sail Away).” These dreamlike passages often end abruptly with the forced removal of headphones from Kayla’s ears, emphasizing the break between banal everyday reality and the curated fantasy space of social media. But Eighth Grade never strains for topicality or hand-wrings at the state of Today’s Youth: There’s a lightness and simplicity to this affectionate portrait of a girl dipping a first toe in the rushing waters of 21st-century teenagerdom.

Kayla’s omnipresent iPhone can be a vector of social anxiety and low self-esteem, but, like the YouTube videos she posts into the apparent void, it can also serve as a medium of connection. After she’s paired with a high school student (Emily Robinson) for a daylong tour of the school she’s about to move on to, the two become unexpectedly friendly, and a dazzled Kayla gets a glimpse of the only good thing about her current phase of life: Eventually, it ends. “Now I can’t wait to grow up,” she confides to her trusty webcam. But her newfound faith in the future is tested, heartstoppingly, by an encounter with an older boy (Daniel Zolghadri) who tries to pressure Kayla into a too-much-too-soon round of truth or dare.

The 27-year-old Burnham, making a graceful and assured debut as a writer-director, already has a devoted following as a stand-up comedian. In fact, his career began at age 16 in exactly the place we first see Kayla: YouTube. In his most recent Netflix special Make Happy, Burnham uses his considerable versatility—he can sing, dance, take to the keyboard to pound out his own satirical pop ballads, and generally shift genres and tones on a dime—to mount a protest against stand-up comedy as a form. By the end of the hour, he’s exposed both the raw desire for approval that drives him to perform in the first place and the need for mass catharsis via entertainment that fills seats at comedy shows. At first glance, this kind of confrontational virtuosity would seem at odds with the emotional directness of Eighth Grade, which, though it showcases many acts of intentional and unintentional cruelty, is a deeply kind movie, curious and nonjudgmental even about the characters who in most coming-of-age films would be hissable villains. But some of the same themes that animate Burnham’s stand-up—his willingness to look at aspects of the modern experience that tend to be omitted from the stories we tell, his glee at subverting audience expectations—are also at play in his first feature.

Impressive as Burnham’s achievement is, Eighth Grade could never hit the heights it does without the right actress in the demanding lead role. Elsie Fisher—who was only 14 when the movie premiered at Sundance, with experience as a child voice actor in the Despicable Me franchise—delivers her “like”-heavy dialogue with such naturalism you might think the lines are improvised. But Burnham has said in interviews that the film is more scripted than it appears, and the story beats that it hits in its brisk 90-minute runtime are too precisely timed to be the result of adolescent ad-libbing. Though they get less screen time than Fisher, the rest of the teen actors, especially Jake Ryan as an earnest, geeky boy who takes a shine to Kayla at a pool party, are uniformly wonderful. And as Kayla’s devoted but confounded father, who’s alternately commanded to talk more, smile less, “stop looking weird and sad,” and just shut up and drive her to the mall, Josh Hamilton gives an exemplary performance, funny and sensitive and quietly soul-baring. A late scene by a campfire, in which Kayla’s dad struggles to articulate what watching her grow from babyhood has meant to him, will do a thorough job of flushing out any eye irritants that might have been bothering you on the way into the theater.

Eighth Grade doesn’t overstay its welcome or beg for the viewer’s approval. As Kayla records her last advice video of the school year, mortifying catchphrase and all, you’re sad to see her go, glad for the gains in self-confidence she’s made, and curious to know what she’ll do next. The same is true of Bo Burnham, who, unlike his tentative protagonist, arrives on the big screen already fully grown.

Research Insights: Independent School Health Check Examines Teen Support Systems

Here are results of research regarding the importance of children having connections with trusted adults.  Sacred Heart’s advisory program and efforts to “build community as a Christian value” help enormously in these areas.  This article serves as an important reminder of the positive benefits of a strong partnership between home and school.

NAIS

Summer 2018

By Rosemary Baggish and Peter Wells

At times, it might seem like teens want nothing to do with adults. But research from Independent School Health Check (ISHC) shows that the opposite is true. In 2007, we created ISHC, a computer-based survey, to more accurately gauge the experience of adolescents in independent schools. The ISHC assesses students’ perceptions, feelings, and behaviors regarding their schools, families, and friends as well as the risk and protective factors that affect their health and well-being. The survey assesses school attitudes and motivation, school pressure, parental supervision, social and emotional connections to adults and peers, substance use, sexuality, sleep, and diet.

Over the past 11 years, the ISHC has collected data from 80,816 middle and high school students in 102 independent schools; most schools have conducted the survey multiple times. Schools that conduct surveys typically use the data to develop and fine-tune health and wellness programs, to identify areas that need attention, as well as areas of particular strength.

One area of inquiry for the ISHC is a student’s relationship with adults. The survey asks students to rate “the adult(s) who is primarily responsible for caring for [them] on a daily basis” on behaviors such as “expresses interest in my life,” “expects me to ask if I can go out,” and “supports my efforts in sports, music, or other activities.” The survey also asks students to rate their perceptions of teachers including statements such as “teachers at my school pay attention to my personal needs, not just academic performance,” and “my teachers treat me with respect.”

Over the years, we have been impressed by the high level of engagement that so many parents maintain, and by the extent to which so many students feel that their teachers support their personal needs as well as their academic needs.

The Findings

Not all parents are supportive, however, nor do all students find encouraging adults in schools—perhaps because they were already wary about trusting an adult. Nevertheless, when we track what happens to adolescents without a reliable adult to talk to and depend on, we find that these are young people at greater risk. Conversely, when adolescents have an adult to talk with, there is benefit to both the student and to the school.

The ISHC asks several questions about students’ interactions with the adults in their lives. More than three-quarters say they “have an adult to talk to on a regular basis about what is going on in [their] life.” About 84 percent agree that “if faced with a really important question or serious problem, [they] would talk to an adult.” Mothers are the adults who students talk to the most (81.9 percent), followed by fathers (62.8 percent). Teachers (26 percent), counselors (24.6 percent), and coaches (15.4 percent) are also adults students turn to.

In high-stakes behavior, the absence of adult support is alarming. For those adolescents who think their parents are not interested or supportive, the likelihood of suicidal thoughts triples. Students who think their teachers are not attentive to their needs are twice as likely to report self-harm or suicidal thoughts. These students are also more likely to break school rules and have a much lower sense of belonging.

How Schools Can Help

What can schools do to encourage students to have attachments to adults in the community? They can build on the already effective outreach of the adults in the school community by supporting adviser programs. Offer advisers training, support, and accountability to guide them so they are able to productively engage with students and their parents. Schools can enhance their programs by offering training in communication strategies, scheduling regular adviser times, and expecting that advisers maintain contact with their advisees and their parents/guardians.

Building a working connection with families is another important strategy for enhancing students’ perception that adults are available to them. In addition to the standard parent meetings and activities that schools offer, it is important to encourage parents/guardians to reach out to their child’s adviser with any questions or concerns about their child, their family, or the school program. An effective adviser program can function as a safety net for all students when they experience academic, social, or personal problems in school and at home. ▪

To see schools that have participated, surveys available, and more, visit independentschoolhealth.com.

AUTHOR

Rosemary Baggish

Rosemary Baggish developed Independent School Health Check, a project of BMW Consulting LLC.

 

Peter Wells

Peter Wells developed Independent School Health Check, a project of BMW Consulting LLC.

How Many Teenage Girls Deliberately Harm Themselves? Nearly 1 in 4, Survey Finds.

The New York Times

Rates of self-injury are even higher in parts of the United States, according to government data. Boys are half as likely to harm themselves.

  • Image
An increase in self-injuries, especially among teenage girls, showed up in a survey of 65,000 high school students. CreditYoon S. Byun/The Boston Globe, via Getty Images

Up to 30 percent of teenage girls in some parts of the United States say they have intentionally injured themselves without aiming to commit suicide, researchers have found.

About one in four adolescent girls deliberately harmed herself in the previous year, often by cutting or burning, compared to about one in 10 boys.

The overall prevalence of self-harm was almost 18 percent.

“These numbers are very high for both genders — that surprised me,” said Martin A. Monto, a sociologist at the University of Portland and lead author of the new research.

Dr. Monto and his colleagues drew on data from a risk behavior survey administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2015. Their report, published online in the American Journal of Public Health, included almost 65,000 public high school students in 11 states.

Most previous studies have examined self-harm among adolescents only in developed countries, in general, or in American adolescents admitted to a clinical setting.

Delaware reported the lowest rates of deliberate injury: 6.4 percent among boys and 17.7 percent among girls. The highest rates were found among boys in Nevada (14.8 percent) and girls in Idaho (30.8 percent).

Adolescents of both sexes reported injuring themselves at rates above 20 percent in Idaho, Kentucky, Nevada and New Mexico. Girls reported self-injury at twice the rate of boys in all but two states.

The results varied by race. More than 20 percent of Native American students reported self-harm, followed by Hispanic, white and Asian students. Only 12 percent of black students reported self-injury.

The behavior also declined with age, from 19.4 percent among 14-year-olds to 14.7 percent among 18-year-olds.

There are wide gaps in researchers’ understanding of self-harm, Dr. Monto noted: “Is adolescence more difficult in some states than in others? What does it actually mean to them when they do it? How is the behavior learned and regarded differently in different cultures?”

Adolescent girls who participated in the survey were more likely than boys to report belonging to the L.G.B.T. community and having been sexually assaulted or bullied online. But males were more likely to report smoking and using drugs. All of those factors were at least somewhat linked with purposeful injury.

The C.D.C. only recently began asking adolescents about self-injury, so it is unclear whether there has been a significant uptick in prevalence over generations.

The practice is so widespread across both sexes that addressing it on a case-by-case basis — instead of as a public health problem — may be insufficient, the researchers said.

“Parents who deal with this often think their child is a clinical anomaly,” Dr. Monti said. “It’s certainly not a healthy behavior — it’s harmful. But if your child has done this, the data shows that it doesn’t make them an unusually ill person.”

10 Must-Listen Podcasts for Tweens and Teens

These fantastic screen-free series are age-appropriate (and cool enough) for older kids. By Frannie Ucciferri 
10 Must-Listen Podcasts for Tweens and Teens

Move over, YouTube, there’s a new game in town, and guess what? It’s totally screen-free. That’s right: Podcasts are growing in popularity with families — and for good reason. They give you an engaging way to connect with kids, no screen required. But once kids have outgrown gentle story-time podcasts, it’s not easy to sift through all the mature, adult-oriented series to find a good one that’s appropriate for tweens and teens.

So we did the work for you. While some of our finds are made just for kids, many are suitable for wider audiences (and can turn otherwise silent car rides into entertaining audio experiences). Where else can they get advice from The Fault in Our Stars author John Green and his YouTuber brother Hank? Or test their knowledge on NPR’s Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me! or game show-inspired series like Pants on Fire? Plus, in addition to being screen-free, podcasts give tweens and teens a way of listening — and learning — that they can’t get on other platforms.

If you’re a podcast newbie, check out 20 Podcasts for Kids, which offers tips for how to listen, plus more recommendations for all ages. Otherwise open up your favorite audio app and dive into these age-appropriate picks for tweens and teens.

Dear Hank & John podcast logoDear Hank and John
Real brothers and vloggers John Green (a young adult novelist) and Hank Green (a YouTuber) co-host a lighthearted advice podcast where they answer questions on everything from random thoughts to deep, emotional topics. The advice they give out is mostly good and always entertaining. Their easy camaraderie and self-deprecating charm make you feel like you’re in on their inside jokes (of which there are many).
Best for: Teens

Harry Potter and the Sacred Text podcast logoHarry Potter and the Sacred Text
What if the Harry Potter series was considered a holy book? While this can feel true to many Potter fans, this thoughtful, spiritual podcast actually puts it into practice. Each episode takes a chapter of a Harry Potter book and looks at it through the lens of a universal theme like love, hope, or destiny. You don’t need to be religious to enjoy this delightful series, but it’s not always spoiler-free, so make sure you’ve read the books ahead of time.
Best for: Tweens and teens

Pants on Fire podcast logoPants on Fire
Pants on Fire is a silly game show where a tween gets to interview two grown-ups, one who’s an expert on a topic and one’s who’s lying. Hosts Debra and L.I.S.A. (a sound effects “robot”) guide the kid contestant through the interviews with some goofy jokes and question suggestions, but it’s the kids that make this show worth checking out.
Best for: Younger tweens

Radiolab podcast logoRadiolab
This Peabody award-winning radio series/podcast delivers scientific ideas in a creative, innovative way. The episodes are a joy to listen to, with a great deal of emphasis put on sound design in addition to the hosts’ clever banter. Some episodes feature strong language, but overall this is a great choice for mature listeners.
Best for: Tweens and teens

Science Friday podcast logoScience Friday
Regularly one of the most popular science podcasts out there, “SciFri” (as it’s known to its fans) has been informing and entertaining listeners for more than 20 years. For curious science lovers who want to learn about the latest discoveries, Ira Flatow’s weekly discussions with experts and listeners are a must-listen.
Best for: Tweens and teens

Six Minutes podcast logoSix Minutes
Six Minutes is another enthralling, suspenseful audio drama from the creators of the award-winning podcast The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel. Featuring a voice cast of real kids, each six-minute episode continues the story of an 11-year-old girl named Holiday who finds herself in the middle of a mystery adventure with no memory of where she came from. New updates are released twice a week, and you’ll be counting down the minutes to see what happens next.
Best for: Tweens

Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast logoStuff You Missed in History Class
Little-known history comes alive three times a week in this fascinating, comprehensive podcast from the people at HowStuffWorks. You don’t need to be a history buff to get hooked, but if you’re not, you might become one after a few episodes. With a focus on weird events, overlooked stories, and underrepresented groups, this popular series is educational, too.
Best for: Tweens and teens

Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me podcast logoWait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!
Brainy teens will love this NPR quiz show for its wacky blend of news and comedy. Longtime host Peter Sagal and a panel of comedians/journalists run through a series of recurring segments about the latest news, and listeners can call in to compete. There’s even a weekly celebrity guest. Although it’s appropriate for radio broadcast, occasionally the jokes get a bit off-color, so make sure teens are mature enough to handle it.
Best for: Teens

What's Good Games podcast logoWhat’s Good Games
What’s Good Games is an informative, funny weekly podcast all about video games. The three hosts (who happen to be female) have great chemistry and demonstrate clear expertise on the biggest games on the market. The (very long) episodes cover news, listener questions, and personal experiences playing games. But keep in mind: While the podcast itself is OK for teens, some of the games they discuss are very mature.
Best for: Teens

#WhoWouldWin podcast logo#WhoWouldWin
Have you ever wanted to know who would win a fight: Luke Skywalker or Spider-Man? Finally, someone is taking this question and others like it seriously in a geeky podcast about beloved comic, sci-fi, and fantasy characters. And while the audio quality isn’t a match for some of the more established podcasts on this list, the lively, well-researched, well-argued debates between the hosts more than make up for it.
Best for: Teens