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'More than 2 billion people have smartphones today, and we're tracking them about on average, 150 times a day. What does the world look like where 2 billion people are tracking our devices 150 times a day?”
The IndieFlix documentary 'LIKE” poses that question and other observations, as experts weigh in on 'finding balance in the digital world.”
Tanager Place and Girls on the Run have teamed up to book an online public screening of the film at 6 p.m. March 4, followed by a panel discussion and access to more resources and materials. But if that night isn't convenient, those who register will have access to the screening link for 48 hours. Access is free, through a public programming grant to Tanager Place from Bank of America.
'The movie talks about the impact of social media on how teens think and feel about themselves. How some teens have really struggled and gone down a roller coaster of different struggles for them, (like) depression and anxiety. And then also, how parents and families have struggled with that topic, as well, in trying to find that balance,” said Jennie Null, 34, of Monticello, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Tanager Place. She also will serve on the post-show panel.
'One of the things I really, really appreciate about this film is that it doesn't say, ‘Don't let your kid have any of it,' because the reality is that that's impossible. In today's world, you're also kind of harming your kid by not allowing any of it, because it is such a social function for kids and teens,” she said.
'But it really focuses on how do we create a balance of social media within our family norms. How do we create an open conversation and dialogue so that children and teens can grow into a place of feeling confident that they can talk to their parents about what's going on in social media. They can go to them with something that might be concerning - or if they see somebody else being bullied or if they're being bullied - without fear of getting in trouble or ‘Mom doesn't understand it. She'll never get it. She'll just tell me to get off of it.' But really helping parents understand why it's so important to kids and how to have more of those conversations and keep the door open.”
She encourages parents to watch it with their tweens, teens, and even younger kids in their household who have access to a cellphone or other device that can access social media.
'Parents have their own experience of engaging on social media, but the extent to which teens and tweens are engaging on social media, and what types of engagement and communications and the interactions that they're having is completely different from those that adults are having,” Null said. 'Kids are always on top of what's the latest and greatest and hottest social media app to have. So much of what kids are doing on it can go under the radar for parents if they don't have an open avenue to continually be discussing and exploring that.”
But it's not just applicable for parents. Null recommends a much wider viewing audience:
'Anybody who works with kids or teens, anybody who lives with them,” she said. 'It's really helpful for the medical community. Parents are asking questions about how to manage this all over the place, so it can be helpful for a wide variety of people. ...
'I think it's great that it shows both the parents' and the teens' experience and how they worked through it together. That can be really helpful and empowering as a parent or as a family to open up conversation,” Null said, adding that 'it's totally appropriate” for middle school and tween viewers.
'I know kids as young as third grade that have cellphones and therefore, they have access to these things. It's never too early to start thinking about this, and to open up conversation,” she said.
Even if you don't have kids under your roof, the documentary offers advice for social media users of any age and household size.
'I absolutely think it would be a benefit for someone who lives alone or is an adult who lives with other people,” Null said. 'It just is another avenue to learning about how does social media impact my well-being.
'And everybody, especially living in a pandemic, has become more and more aware of the importance on being well and wanting to address the things that have a negative impact potentially on their well-being,” she said.
'It is hard. I go back to that idea of balance. I think it's so hard to watch other documentaries, and by the time I'm done, I'm like, OK, I need no social media ever again. That's not a reality in today's world. So thinking for myself, how do I create balance around it. How do I limit my exposure. How do I look at something and say, ‘That's just a highlight reel, I don't have to feel bad about myself because I saw that there,' or ‘I don't have to read into that person's comment as it defining them or defining my relationship with them.' Those are good reminders for any of us.”
Science and health
'In social media, you need to have some thick skin.” 'I think I have an unhealthy relationship with my phone and social media.” 'My parents say I'm a bit addicted to it.”
Those are just three of the observations young people state in the film.
Among the experts on screen, Dr. Cora Breuner, Seattle Children's Hospital adolescent medicine specialist, said: 'There's a lot of data that show that people get addicted to their phones because the same addiction centers light up as they would if you were using heroin. And also, if you're in love with someone, there's another part of your brain that lights up on an MRI, and people have the same part of their brain light up about their phone. What? ‘I love my phone.' They do, if you look at the brain.”
The ramifications for young users can manifest in their mental health, Null said.
'In today's world, so much of peer-to-peer interactions and even peer-to-peer bullying can also take place on social media apps and platforms,” she said. 'And when your child is engaging in interactions with their peers in that form, they're isolated, they're lonely, they don't have other supports around them all the times. It's different than if you think about a group of kids on the playground or in the lunchroom talking about these things. There's a little bit more social support when you have people that you're sitting with backing you up, so to speak, as opposed to it happening one-one-one behind closed doors.”
She has seen parents reporting that their child is suddenly withdrawn, struggling, feeling depressed, anxious or left out, developing a negative self-image or self-doubt. She advises parents to set boundaries and guidelines, like having the child reach a certain age before using social media.
'It doesn't mean that they aren't still impacted by it when they go to other places or hang out with other people,” she said.
'Another place we do see the impact on child development and teen development is how they are developing their social skills and their ability to have conflict in-person or to have difficult conversations or even just practicing job application skills. You have to introduce yourself, you have to be able to carry a conversation live, as opposed to that back and forth chat style.”
Disconnecting post-pandemic will be even harder, she noted, since our brains have become used to instant feedback of digital platforms.
But she hopes those who view 'LIKE” will come away with 'a feeling of hope and capability and empowerment to have difficult conversations,” she said. 'It's really having those open, difficult conversations that helps all of us be most resilient and most well.”
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At a glance
'LIKE,” an IndieFlix documentary screening online
Finding balance in the digital world
Tanager Place and Girls on the Run
6 p.m. March 4; link open for 48 hours to those who have registered
Free and open to the public