Facebook Testimony: How can we break free from the social media grip?

Downtime means reaching for your phone and scrolling through Facebook or Instagram
Downtime means reaching for your phone and scrolling through Facebook or Instagram
Published: Oct. 5, 2021 at 6:27 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - It’s routine for probably most of us these days.

Downtime means reaching for your phone and scrolling through Facebook or Instagram.

We all realize it’s not the most productive use of our time, but this week we were told it’s far worse than a time suck.

“I believe Facebook’s products harm children, stoke division and weaken our democracy,” Frances Haugen said during testimony Tuesday.

We were first introduced to her on “60 Minutes: when she admitted she was the Facebook whistleblower.

Haugen was a product manager on Facebook’s civic misinformation team.

She says Facebook’s own research shows its product is used to undermine democracy and spread misinformation. She says the company puts profits over people.

She believes Facebook’s products harm children.

“Engagement-based ranking on Instagram can lead children from very innocuous topics like healthy recipes…to anorexia-promoting content in a very short period of time,” she said during her testimony.

Company research first reported by the Wall Street Journal found one in three girls said Instagram makes body image issues worse.

Teens also blame Instagram for increased rates of anxiety and depression.

It’s serious stuff.

So, how can we break free from the grip of social media?

How do we help our kids do it as well?

Jamie Boll asked Juliet Kuehnle, LCMHC.

Juliet: We can hide behind social media in so many ways. We portray our greatest hits album and our highlight reels on social media. We’re fueled by our desire to belong and to be liked and praised. So, this really shows up in our presence on social media and comparing to others.

The unpredictability of how you know a post will be received keeps us coming back for more, so especially because of brain development for a teen and adolescents, they receive that as ‘I have to show up more because it feels good to get those likes. And then if I don’t, I’ve got to try to post the thing that is going to get the likes’. Right? So it fuels feelings of anxiety, depression, isolation, loneliness.

Jamie: Girls and body shape. We know that’s such a big deal. What can parents say to their daughters on that topic?

Juliet: It’s really important first to make sure they understand that what they’re seeing is not always reality, because sometimes girls don’t even know that. They can get caught up in that comparison trap, in the diet culture mentality that is perpetuated on social media, without even realizing that they can question it.

So, we want to bring to their attention, you can be a critical consumer of these things. Invite them to notice what they’re feeling when they see some of these things. If they’re feeling jealousy or inadequacy, give voice to that and to speak to that. What they’re seeing is somebody’s greatest hits album. It might be photoshopped and filtered. Also, it isn’t the whole picture. It doesn’t really tell us anything about that person, so making sure they understand that there’s so much more than just what we see in those pictures.

Jamie: And we heard testimony today from the former Facebook employee, the whistleblower here, saying kids admit going on Instagram makes them feel worse, yet they still go on. She says teens don’t self-regulate very well. Is that part true? And is that different from adults?

Juliet: It is because of brain development. Even though adults can get caught up in some of the same things. If we look at it just from a brain development perspective, they are actively working from kind of what we call the emotion center of the brain. The frontal lobe doesn’t fully develop until we’re about 25. That’s where more executive-functioning logic and reason take place.

The pleasure center, that’s the most active place for teens. So, that’s where we see poor impulse control, more attention-seeking, action-seeking. It’s harder to make ethical decisions and so, yes. They’re experimenting with their identity already in that developmental stage, how they fit in with others, how they wish to be seen. Putting all of that together makes it a recipe for, I won’t say disaster, but a really messy relationship.

Jamie: I know as parents, I’ve had conversations with my own kids about this. You know what? Why not just put the phone down or delete the app for a little while and see how you feel? There must be a better way to do it because I’m not sure how successful that is, right?

Juliet: It is important to have those conversations, but what they hear from mom and dad is one thing. Even though they can recognize these negative impacts, it’s still a way that they stay connected. It’s a way that they feel like they belong. Of course, there are some positives, but I do think it’s helpful to have a sit-down, proactive conversation around what digital safety looks like, helping them understand the research. Maybe even just sending some articles that are relatable.

This isn’t just mom and mad being annoying because we want you to pay attention to us at dinner. The research really says this. This is how it can impact your mood.

I actually have parents consider putting a contract in place, which I know can feel really tedious, but when it’s in black and white and the kid understands that social media and phone use is a privilege - so it comes after you complete things like your chores and your homework and things like that - they start to have a better sense of that it is a relationship with their device and we want them to look at that. I also think it’s important for us as adults to model the behavior that we want to see in them, which is really hard because a lot of teens will say ‘Well, my mom and dad are on their phones all the time’, so we need to show them also what we expect to see from them.

Jamie: If you’re concerned as a parent, what are the next steps? When should I start paying attention and seek out someone Like You?

Juliet: The two things that I always tell parents - if there’s a change in their pattern or behaviors, or there’s an impairment in their functioning, whether that’s academically socially, something like that, then those can be red flags. So, pay attention to that, and have a conversation either with a pediatrician or a mental health professional to dig in a little deeper.

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