I read an article recently called “Tether Yourself: The Enlightening Talk Parents Aren’t Having Can Keep Teens from a Damaging Drift.”
It was on a website called Hands Free Mama, authored by Rachel Macy Stafford. It talked about the dangers of technology and social media, and the damage it is doing to our kids. As parents of kids in the technology age, it can feel overwhelming to know all the things we need to cover to keep them safe and help them make good decisions. The entire article is worth the read, but my favorite part was the letter she wrote to her daughter:
Dear one, it is natural to go through difficult periods where you don’t feel like yourself … when you question your worth … when your purpose is not clear. During those times, I want to use this information to give yourself an unfiltered view of your beautiful worth and your extraordinary potential.
First, you need to know what is happening to your brain while on your device. Social media is known for creating algorithms to capture and manipulate our consumption. The goal is to achieve the highest amount of engagement possible. There is even a term for this in Silicon Valley: Brain Hacking. It is having a negative impact on our mental health – especially susceptible are teenagers. Here’s why:
The teen brain isn’t done forming and the part of the brain that manages impulse control, empathy, judgment, and the ability to plan ahead are not fully developed. This means you’re more likely to see disturbing online content or have troubling encounters; it means you’re more likely to become distracted from the important tasks at hand; it means you’re more likely to become addicted to your device than adults. When you are addicted, you will experience distraction, fatigue, or irritability when you’re not on your phone. Teens who excessively use their phone are more prone to disrupted sleep, restlessness, stress and fatigue.(source)
So let’s think about this in terms of your life:
Each time the phone notifies you, you stop what you are doing—whether it’s homework or a job you have to do. What might take you one hour to do, will take you several, and it won’t be completed as well. The inability to focus will reflect in your grades and impact the job opportunities you have as you grow. Spending quality time with friends and family will be impacted by the need to check the phone, making you believe what is most important is on your phone when it is really the person in front of you.
Each time you scroll, you are being influenced by what you see on the screen. Your thoughts and beliefs about what your body should look like or what your life should look like are being shaped. The hidden influence of the internet can create a poor self-image, unrealistic comparisons, and harmful judgements – and you won’t even know it is happening.
But here’s how you take back control:
Awareness … you see, awareness changes everything. Awareness is your weapon against the hidden influences and damaging behaviors. While you are online, your mind, your thoughts, your core values are drifting to wherever tech companies want you to go. The remedy is to limit the time you spend drifting in the online world and tether yourself to real life.
To real people, real conversations, and real scenery.
To furry animals, interesting books, good music, the great outdoors.
To spatulas, hammers, cameras, paintbrushes, and yoga mats.
When your worth is in question … when you feel lost and alone … when you feel sad and can’t explain why, tether yourself to real life. Tether yourself to real people. Tether yourself to real love. And I will help you set limits because I know teens feel pressure to be available 24/7. But you need and deserve time to be alone with your thoughts, doing things you enjoy, without constant pressure and interruptions from the outside world.
As you practice these self-regulation skills that will benefit you for life, I vow to do the same. I am here to set an example of a well-rounded life and to help you navigate this challenging territory. You can always hold on to me.
I love you,
It’s a beautiful letter, and once again I am struck by the deep need for camp in today’s kids. It’s easy to get lost in the digital world and drift away from the real world right in front of us. But Deerhorn (and our no electronics policy!) keeps kids tethered to reality in a way they can’t find anywhere else. They are tethered to horses, to sailboats, to paintbrushes and soccer balls. To fish and dogs and sunshine and bald eagles. They are tethered to teamwork and friendship, laughter and camaraderie.
But this letter also rang so powerfully true to me in today’s crazy world, when the uncertainty feels overwhelming and the fear threatens to suffocate us. There are days when we feel completely untethered and life can feel out of control. But if we step away from our devices as much as possible, and tether ourselves to what is right in front of us, those beautiful faces we love most, a whole new world opens up. It might not be a world where we are shopping, eating in restaurants, traveling, or going to parties. This world looks different. But if we tether ourselves to cooking with our kids, doing puzzles, walking dogs, playing games, we begin to feel tethered once again. To life. To joy. To hope. “And I think to myself…what a wonderful world.”