Back to School: Teens and Digital Stress

Being a teenager today is not easy. As schools open throughout the country during August and September, teens are dealing with more than the normal stress that we dealt with before technology.
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It's a sign of the times. Being a teenager today is not easy, but let's face it -- adolescence is not an easy stage of life.

As schools open throughout the country during August and September, teens are dealing with more than the normal stress that we dealt with before technology -- such as fashion, will I have anyone to eat lunch with, what are my teachers like, will my classes be too hard, how will I fit my extra-curricular activities and studies together, and what about family time, etc.

Today we have to compound the average living stress with digital stress.

A recent study titled "Digital Stress: Adolescents' Personal Accounts" was published online in the journal New Media & Society.

According to this study, the six major digital stressors are effecting today's teens:

•Receiving mean and harassing personal attacks
•Public shaming and humiliation
•Breaking and entering into accounts and devices
•Pressure to comply -- digital peer pressure
•Feeling smothered -- the pressure of keeping up with social media, especially with texting

Breaking down the stress-factors:

Impersonation. Digital citizenship is another name for your online manners and etiquette. Your keystrokes matter, kindness counts in every character you enter. Your online reputation is your future. Don't make it easy for someone to break into your account or phone and pretend to be you.

• Never share your passwords with anyone, not even your best friend or sibling.
•Always be sure your cell phone is locked. Never give anyone your code to unlock it.
•Be aware of your surroundings when entering your passwords, including at your library computer.
•Be vigilant about your privacy settings -- especially when posting photos.

Receiving mean and harassing personal attacks/Public shaming and humiliation.
Cyberbullying. Your teen needs to know they can come to you or another adult to report it immediately. Shockingly, 24 percent of tweens and teens claimed they didn't know what to do if they were being harassed online.

•Speak openly and frequently about cyberbullying prevention.
•Show your kids how to block unwanted people from social media sites.
•Never try to seek revenge on anyone that is harassing you.
•Never ask friends to engage in an online battle.
•Never post photos that could haunt you later.

Breaking and entering. Most teens expect their parents to monitor their digital lives, but they fear their friends or others snooping through their emails or text messages. Similar to impersonation tips, you have to be diligent in keeping your gadgets and passwords secure.

A teen's best friend today could be their frenemy tomorrow. Blame it on the parent! If a friend is pressuring your teen to share passwords, tell them they can blame it on you: that you threatened to remove their phone privilege if they give anyone their password.

Pressure to Comply.
Digital peer pressure is similar to offline peer pressure. Teens felt the pressure from their closest friends or romantic partner to share their password as a sign of trust. According to this study, this was also a big motivation for sharing nude photos or making sexual videos. "It was about intimacy and teens wanting to communicate that they know that special someone would never hurt them and that they don't have to have any secrets," Emily Weinstein said, the co-author of this research.

Just as teens have a hard time assessing risks -- research suggests this part of the brain doesn't fully develop until 25 -- they may not know how to properly navigate the currency of trust. Parents can help guide them, Weinstein added.

Feeling smothered. Texting, emailing, social networking, it never ends. When it comes to teens learning to find the balance, it can be tricky. Most believe every email, text, and social media site needs to be addressed immediately -- which in and of itself is stressful. The study gave an example that shows teens can be sensitive if a text or email message isn't answered within a certain amount of time (quickly) they assume you might be upset or angry with them.

Weinstein pointed out that teens are often worried about telling their friends or significant others to stop the constant contact, fearing that could trigger an ending of the relationship.

•Tell your friends your parents have given you digital curfews, if you don't answer, it's because you may not have access to the Internet or phone.
•It's back to school, you have obligations at school and home or you will have your digital privileges removed.
•Tell friends to never assume anything until they hear back from you.

Reducing digital stress starts with offline parenting

As you're getting your teen ready for their new school year, don't forgot to remind them about digital citizenship, online reputation, and most of all -- cyber-safety. Remind your teen that you are there to support them and that it is safe to come to you for help with both virtual and real-world problems. Let them know that you understand the new pressures they face in the digital age.

Takeaway tips:

•Parenting offline will reduce online stress, talk to your teens everyday about digital stress factors -- tie in your own experiences.
•Security is a priority, remind your teens never to share passwords.
•Parental controls and monitoring systems are great, but nothing replaces actual parenting.

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