Oakland: Expert advises parents on digital-age teens

Oakland: Expert advises parents on digital-age teens

OAKLAND — What do Yik Yak, Pewdiepie and Snapchat have in common? They’re all part of the intricate world of adolescent social media.

Parents at Bishop O’Dowd High School learned about that world March 28 from a psychologist who works with middle and high school students who grapple with how to use the power of the internet in a responsible manner.

Erica Pelavin and Gloria Moskowitz-Sweet cofounded My Digital TAT2 and use their therapy skills to understand and eventually decode the signals that teens give off when staring into their smartphones each day and long into the night.

Along with presenting to parents, the pair works with teens and runs focus groups to learn more about the latest online developments and trends. It was news to many parents, some of whom have never tweeted or sent photos of themselves wearing dog ears on Snapchat.

“How many of you wish you were not parenting in the age of social media?” Pelavin asked to a show of hands.

“My goal is not to have you leave fearful and frozen but knowing that you can do this,” she said. “For the most part, our kids are doing amazing things online and they still need us to parent them even in high school.”

In case you haven’t noticed, the Internet has become an essential part of daily life, driven by the rapid expansion in technology. When Facebook was created in 2004, the average online user sent out 35 texts each month. By 2016, that same user was sending out more than 2,000 personal messages monthly.

Apple’s iPhone, a pioneering smartphone, introduced applications or “apps” in 2008. Teens now have more than 2.2 billion apps accessible to them.

With the click of an app, teens can send messages and photos instantaneously, take part in video chats with a group and access any one of a number of online channels that disseminate information or entertainment directly to their cell phones.

While they may live in a brave new world of technology, students are looking for the same rewards that teens have always sought — acceptance and recognition in the hierarchy of high school, Pelavin said.

“Developmental tasks have not changed,” she said. “Our kids are just being kids for the most part. They are doing what we did when we were growing up — those eternal goals of adolescence.”

Teens know the right time of day to post social media content and if the post does not get enough “likes,” they will take it down. Some are seduced by the fame that comes with being a well-known Internet personality. Parents should talk to their children about the reality of flashy online material.

“They are looking at curated posts and highlight reels and to remind them that not everyone has that perfect life that they put on Instagram and that they need to be looking and searching for fulfillment that doesn’t have anything to do with looking to be liked,” Pelavin said.

A brief communication with friends may be all a teen can accommodate given busy schedules that can include homework and extracurricular activities, according to Pelavin. The social media world is not without its share of heroes and what Pelavin calls “social media gurus.”

The most popular, Pewdiepie, aka Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg, is a Swedish comedian and video producer who has generated controversy with images of Nazis, anti-Semitic signs and references to ISIS. He claims the content was meant as humor and that he does not support hate.

Students tell Pelavin that they often invite these online celebrities into their homes each night via the internet. Parents might want to know who their kids are watching, she said.

“We have no problems asking our kids about their friends, but we don’t ask them about their online friends,” she said.

Taking part in social media is a two-edged sword. The anonymity offered by some apps can be helpful to students who may not be able to express themselves offline. One of Pelavin’s sons was shy but found a supportive group through the online gaming community.

But there is a darker side as well. Teens have committed suicide from negative cyberbullying and an app that disseminates photos and text can be used as a weapon of retaliation.

The adolescent tendency toward risk taking (which Pelavin attributes to the lack of frontal lobes in a teen’s brain) can get them into trouble. She likened it to giving a kid a six pack of beer and letting him drive home. Parents need to help their children do the right thing, Pelavin reminded.

“We are giving them a really powerful tool without a road map,” she said. “Lend them your frontal lobes and help them make the right decisions.”

What happens online may come back to haunt a student later in the form of a bad reputation.

“Social media has become the new resume, and it’s important to ask our kids the right questions about what they are putting online,” Pelavin said.

College admissions officials now ask candidates for their Facebook and Instagram accounts to get a full picture of the applicant’s personality.

To create a good image, students should ask a friend to review their online content each week and tell them if it presents them in a positive or negative light. Pelavin said. That extends to posts by friends.

“Not only are colleges deciding on your kid based on who they are but on who they hang out with,” she said.

Pelavin also urged the parents to create a LinkedIn account for their students to set a professional tone for their college applications.

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Published at Tue, 04 Apr 2017 14:29:26 +0000