Therapy Doesn’t Have to Be Scary: What to Know Before You Go

Many times fear of the unknown stops potential clients from making that first phone call to begin receiving treatment, but therapy doesn’t have to be scary!

Keep reading for some important information to help ease anxiety you may have about seeking mental health treatment.

Therapists Do Not Provide Advice

If you are new to understanding therapy, you may believe entering a clinician’s office you will be expected to spill your deepest darkest secrets in record time, only to have someone sitting across from you say, “Well all you need to do is…” Although this is a very common ideology, it couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Seeking mental health treatment is different than speaking to family and friends about your feelings because we are trained specifically NOT provide advice to clients. Therapists instead will ask questions to support unlocking the wisdom already inside.

A therapist’s intention across the couch is to support the clients treatment goal progress by providing psychoeducation, and debunking irrational fears and beliefs while building a trusting and safe relationship.

Sounds less horrific already right??

You Have Control of Your Treatment

Another fear many clients come to the initial session with is that the therapist will control and manipulate treatment. For example dictating what is talked about during each session, or pushing clients to talk of uncomfortable issues before they are ready.

In reality, the therapeutic relationship (between the therapist and the client) is one of the most treasured and important parts of the process. Depending on your comfortability, it may take a few sessions before you are ready to begin diving into the content you came to seek a professional for… AND That’s OK!

While beginning treatment, your therapist will collaboratively work with you to identify your goals. Never feel pressured to share information you don’t feel comfortable with yet to try to get to results faster.

Let your therapist know how you are feeling. You will take an active part in treatment… after all, it is your life we’re talking about!

Confidentiality

Finally, and most importantly is the myths behind confidentiality which is the cornerstone of effective therapy. Confidentiality is simply, your right to privacy.

HIPPA, or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, ensures your medical records and personal health information, including psychotherapy and mental health information, remains private.

That means, without your written permission your therapist cannot legally share any personal information to your family, friends, boss, cousin, or partner. They actually can’t even disclose if you are even their client or not without a release of information…(talk about hush hush!)

Keep in mind, there are certain limitations to confidentiality, which your therapist should explain in detail during your initial session.

There are benefits to utilizing a private pay therapist, if confidentiality is a major importance to your treatment. If your therapist appears unclear or rushes through confidentiality and it’s limitations, be sure to ask questions such as:

    What types of communication with my therapist are confidential ( ie: in person, email, phone, text etc.)
    If I’m billing insurance or using EAP what information is shared to my insurance agency/ workplace?
    What is the benefit of private pay regarding confidentiality?
    What are the limitations of confidentiality?

As a therapist, I have the amazing privilege of sitting alongside my clients journey, as they take inventory of personal feelings, emotions, and mental status.

This Halloween don’t let fear stop you from creating a life worth living! Begin discovering yourself TODAY with Michelle Smith Counseling, located off Northlake Blvd in Palm Beach Gardens, FL

Contact me at 405-323-1786 for more information on my therapeutic approach

Happy Halloween,

Michelle Smith

MS, RMHCI

michellesmith@discoveryourselftoday.com

405-323-1786

3 Myths about Psychotherapy and Why it Can Drastically Benefit Your Life

In the last few years, their has been a dramatic shift in nations focus towards mental health. From school shootings, increase in suicides, and family separation at our nations borders now more than ever Americans are understanding the importance of mental health awareness. Unfortunately many are still skeptical about reaching out to professionals for therapy. In an effort to break the stigma around mental health, today I discuss a few myths regarding the therapeutic process. My hope is to encourage individuals, couples, and families to seek support and engage in holistic approach to their healing journey

1. Going to therapy means I’m “weak, flawed, or “crazy” This myth couldn’t be farther from the truth! Mental health professionals work with clients with many different concerns from severe mental illnesses to life transitions, adjustment disorders, familial conflict and more. Therapy can benefit anyone who is willing and ready to better their life, and it can be extremely effective when clients seek counsel prior to the issues becoming overwhelming and unbearable. Their is no specific “criteria” to see a mental health provider and it’s important to let go of your ideas of therapy from what you’ve seen in the movies and TV. Part of breaking the stigma around mental health is being willing to reach out when you think can utilize extra support. Even therapists see their own therapists (yes it’s true!) If you feel that you could benefit from therapy, reach out to a few providers and begin doing research! It may be the best decision you end up making for your life.

2. I’ve talked to everyone and no one has been helpful. Why will a therapist be different? Their is a vast difference between confiding in a friend or family member and talk therapy. For one, therapy does not rely on a therapist’s wisdom for answers. Therapy is a process in which a client and professional utilize evidence based interventions and strategies to uncover a clients reality nonjudgementallh in the comfort of a safe environment. Therapy works because of a strong therapeutic alliance created between a therapist and a client. A therapist’s role in the counseling room is to provide insight, confront cognitive distortions, and overall lead the client to conclusions, increase their coping strategies, and encourage effective decision making. The difference between talking to a friend about your issues and attending therapy is when talking to friends and family members you may receive guidance or advice from their personal experiences and become invalidated during the process. How many times have you attempted to share a feeling to a loved one, only to be disappointed when the loved one turns the focus on them saying something like, “When I went through that I just picked myself up.. you should too!” You may even find friends and family trying to sway you in a certain directions for their own agendas. Therapists rarely provide clients with advice. Instead therapists work to provide you with information and guide you to make the moves you need to have a fulfilled life on YOUR terms!

3. Therapy will make me worse

For survivors of childhood trauma, domestic violence, or abuse and neglect the thought of reliving these memories can be extremely anxiety provoking. Even if you are not a victim of trauma, is it normal to have fear that discussing these concerns may bring up buried emotions. To combat this anxiety remember therapy likely will reveal many emotions, and your therapist is trained to help you progress, channel, and let go of those memories that are no longer serving you. Make sure to chat with your therapist and request them to walk you through your treatment plan so you can take a collaborative approach to your healing journey! Therapy is a process, it may feel “worse” before it gets better; however, your therapist will continue to guide you without becoming overwhelmed in a safe and nurturing environment.

Beginning therapy is an important and courageous decision! Therapy is an effective tool to increase mental well-being and overall happiness in your life.

If you or someone you know is are interested in understanding the therapeutic process more in depth and would like to see if I would be a good fit for your therapeutic needs contact me for a free consultation at 405-323-1786

Happy Healing!

Michelle Smith RMHCI, MS

Supporting a Friend or a Family Member with Mental Illness

Nearly 1 in 5 US adults are currently living with a mental illness (National Institute of Mental Health). With these staggering statistics, it’s likely we all know at least one friend or family member who is struggling with some type of mental illness. Recent media has urged individuals to encourage loved ones to get help, but what is the proper way to do this? It is easy to make the wrong comment or suggestion, resulting in a trigger for the individual and lessening the chances of them seeking the help they need.

Here are some clear tips on how to encourage a loved one who is struggling with mental health.

1. Validation, Validation, Validation

The way we address our loved ones is vital in the intervention process. As a supporter, you may have your own inferences or preconceived notions into your loved ones feelings, or you may hold resentment towards their illness due to the impact it has caused on you which can lead to invalidation. Phrases like, “Things aren’t that bad”, “Stop looking for attention” or “Why don’t you just snap out of it” may be your knee jerk reaction; however, these phrases can cause detrimental harm to your loved one. Invalidating another’s perspective or point of view sends the message that you either A) you do not believe your loved one or B) you do not care about the reality your loved one is experiencing. Instead try phrases like “It sounds like you’re struggling, what can I do to help” or simply “I don’t even know what to say right now. I just want you to know I’m here”. These are safer and much easier alternatives. Validating your loved ones reality is more likely to encourage them to get the help they need in the long run.

2. Show Up and Be Present

Living with mental illness can fathom serious feelings of loneliness. Decreased self-worth can make it very difficult for your loved one to reach out in time of crisis. Showing up, even if you aren’t invited is a good way to continue to show your support to your loved one. Checking in, sending food or messages, or simply saying you are here when they are ready will help encourage your loved one to open up. When they are ready to reach out for help, provide support by researching therapists together or even sitting in for that first initial call to set an appointment can be helpful.

3. Be Aware of Signs of Suicide

Suicide is largely preventable. It’s important as a loved one that you take all words of death seriously. Even if it is presented in a joking manner, many times this can be an early signs a crisis may occur. Ask follow up questions about their comment, and do not leave the person alone if they are reporting an active plan to harm themselves. You can encourage your loved one to contact national help lines such as 1-800-273-TALK. If you still feel your loved one is unsafe after attempting de escalation tactics you can contact the local police department and ask for the crisis intervention team. If necessary, they can issue a voluntary or involuntary hospitalization for the safety of your loved one. In the state of Florida this is called a Baker Act. Don’t hesitate. Make sure to verbalize that this is what is done when a loved one’s life is in danger for their safety.

4. You Are Not Responsible for Your Loved One’s Recovery

After the recent tragedies, many people are looking to help in some way. Even if you follow all the guidance provided above, you may still be frustrated that your loved one does not follow through with recommendations to receive therapeutic services. It’s important as a support person to not take on the burden of your loved one’s recovery. At the end of the day, therapy is hard work! The motivation to get better must be present in the client for results to come about. This may mean loved ones will go through the process for weeks, months, even years until one is finally ready to begin their journey to healing. Be patient and continue validation strategies until they come to the decision to get help. Keep reiterating, “When your ready, I’m here for you”.

If you or someone you love is looking for therapeutic services in the Palm Beach County area contact Michelle Smith RMHCI, MS at 405-323-1786 for a free consultation today.

The Ugly Truth About Depression

This week’s tragic loses of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain brings to light to the harsh reality of depression. Regardless of financial status, race, religion, occupation, or support system, anyone can be affected by depression and suicidal thoughts.

Most of the world was very shocked to hear the passing of these two influential successful figures by suicide. People are attempting to rationalize how someone could take their life when from the outside it may appear they had everything, “going for them”. Part of breaking the stigma behind mental health is understanding that depression is drastically different from circumstantial sadness.

Depression is all consuming, affecting every, if not most, areas of life regardless of circumstances.

Symptoms include:

Extreme sadness

Diminished interest in activities

Extreme fatigue

Indecisiveness

Significant weight gain or loss not due to dieting or change in eating patterns Recurrent thoughts of death and suicidal ideations

People diagnosed with depression feel these symptoms all, or almost all of the time. Sure, we all feel sad from time to time, maybe you didn’t get the promotion you were counting on, you are struggling with a relationship, or going through another major life stressor. The difference between these situations and depression is sadness is fleeting and generally doesn’t affect the ability to communicate with loved ones, continue job duties, and perform daily tasks.

Depression is an overwhelming sense of doom and gloom that affects functioning in multiple areas of life. People with depression may struggle with simple tasks such as brushing their hair or putting on their clothes in the morning. Getting out of bed can even be an exhausting task, and this feeling is drastically different than the Monday blues many of us feel occasionally. Depression takes a hold of the entire being, tricking the mind into automatic negative thinking patterns that scream, “I might as well give up, I’ll never make it through this” or “I’m such a burden the ones I love would be better without me anyways”.

These thoughts can become overwhelming and lead to attempts to stop symptoms such as suicide. Depression is not something that individuals can simply “get over”. Without professional intervention, depression and it’s symptoms will continue and intensify over time.

If you have struggled with depressed thoughts or symptoms the best thing to do is contact a professional mental health counselor for an assessment to see if you can benefit from therapeutic services.

As we were reminded this week, mental health IS health. Without mental well being the material things that surround you have no value. Although it may be the hardest thing to do, reach out and take the important step to get help!!

If you or someone you love are in immediate crisis contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255

Michelle Smith MS, RMHCI

(405) 323-1786

The Power of Language

Our brain produces roughly 50,000 thoughts every day. Whether we are mindful of them or not, our internal language or self-talk molds and shapes our overall perspective towards life. You can think of language as your own personal filter, governing the way you perceive, digest, and respond to the information gathered from the world around you. Many of the 50,000 thoughts are habitual, sometimes causing negative schemas that play into the decision making of everyday life.

To find out if your thoughts are shaping your life in a helpful or hurtful way take this simple test. First grab a pen and a piece of paper, find a place with minimal distractions and set a timer for two minutes. During that time, write down each thought that crosses your mind, even for a second. Thinking about lunch? Write it down. Mind jumping to that terrible conversation you had with your boss? Write that too. When your timer stops begin categorizing the thoughts as positive or negative. You may be surprised how your brain automatically wires towards the negative, in psychology we call this automatic negative thinking (ANT). Without awareness of these habitual patterns, we have little likelihood of changing these thoughts to eventually change our lives.

You may be thinking, OK I’m aware my language can use some improvement, but now what? The next step in changing those ANTS (automatic negative thoughts) is finding replacement thoughts and symbols to utilize when you notice your negative self-talk. You can utilize visualization and imagery to pump the brakes on negative thinking. For example, visualizing a large red stop sign indicating need to take a break. From there, saying something like “I got this” or “I am capable” can be a good way to switch the dialogue before it overpowers us. Find affirmations and symbols that are believable and resonate with you. Before long you will begin noticing a shift in the patterns of your language changing your emotions and behavior over time.

You can think of automatic negative thoughts as ants on a beautiful summer day. If one single ant made an appearance at your annual Memorial Day BBQ, you may shake it off and go on with your festivities with minimal concern. Now imagine if a swarm of hundreds even thousands of ants joined you and your BBQ, you may be more likely to be packing up and running for the hills! Don’t allow one automatic negative thought or ANT turn into hundreds, stop and make a change before your language overpowers your Memorial Day BBQ, or worse… your life!

If you or someone you love is struggling with negative thinking, depression, anxiety, life transitions, or other mental health concerns in the Palm Beach Gardens area contact Michelle Smith at 405-323-1786 for a free 30 minute phone consultation today!

The Importance of Mothers (and Other Parental Figures)

This weekend we celebrated all the hard-working, dedicated, and loving mothers and mother figures for Mother’s Day. This week’s blog post is dedicated to all the wonderful mothers (and parental figures) out there!

Harry Harlow, a psychologist in the 1960’s understood the importance of parental figures to the social-emotional development of humans. Prior to his study with monkeys, many people believed babies and children depended on their mother’s due to their need for a food source and survival.

Harlow thought different, he felt the comfort provided by caretakers was also a factor to development, and he was right!

Harlow studied the effect of monkeys on two different types of “mother figures”. One “mother figure” made of wire only had the monkey food, the other had no monkey food but was covered in a comforting terry cloth. Harlow was fascinated when he noticed the monkeys would spend the majority of time with the terry cloth mother, running only to the wire mother just long enough to fill up on milk. Harlow founded the importance of love, compassion, and validation to our development thanks to this intriguing psychological study.

For humans, the same is true. It has been proven time and time again that children with secure attachments to their parental figures have the best chances at healthy physical, emotional, intellectual, and social development. Love, encouragement, and compassion given by parental figures is vital to effective growth and sends the message that our children can trust in us to meet their needs.

A recent study even linked parent-child communication to children’s successes. The study founded that quality conversations were a key factor in successful development. These imperative interactions foster connectedness to our families. Warm and positive communication with purpose help children more accurately understand family values, morals, appropriate communication skills, and increases confidence and self-esteem.

If you’re having trouble finding time to have conversations with your child, take the car ride to and from school or doctor’s appointments as an opportunity. Ask your child or teen open ended questions to get them talking about their feelings and day. Instead of “What did you do at school today?” Try something like “What was your favorite part of your day?” This question warrants a little more pondering and also cannot be answered with the overused “It was good, Mom!”. Not only will it help foster your child’s development, but it will increase the quality of your parent-child relationship and encourage healthy relationships in your child’s future.

Whether you are a mother, father, or parental figure you are appreciated! No one works longer, more strenuous hours, or a more important job than parents!

If you or someone you know is struggling with parent-child communication, self-care and work/life balance, or other mental health issues and would like to set up an appointment for psychotherapy please contact Michelle Smith, RMHCI, MS at 405-323-1786 for a FREE 15 phone consultation!

Mental Health Awareness Month

May marks mental health awareness month, a time to reflect and honor the 43.8 million people with mental illnesses around the globe. Many of these unsung heroes are living among us without our awareness. Family, friends, coworkers, and people you know are wearing invisible scars many silently suffering in their day to day lives.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just over 20 percent, or about 1 in 5 children, have had a seriously debilitating mental disorder. With a large number of the population diagnosed with mental health disorders, there is still many barriers to effective care such as the stigma & shame associated with receiving mental health services.

Equality Between Physical and Mental Wellness

If you found out someone you love had been diagnosed with a physical illness such as diabetes, there would be no hesitation to encourage that person to receive the utmost care necessary to return to normal functioning. Unfortunately, many people do not feel the same way about mental illness. Often clients are told by loved ones to “just handle it” or “stop thinking about it”. It’s important for people to know mental illness cannot just “be handled” by the client on their own accords. Just like a patient with diabetes utilizes a number of doctors and specialists, people with mental illnesses are recommended to utilize mental health professionals, psychiatrists, and therapists to manage symptoms and return to a normal level of functioning. Changing the perspective can help bring empathy, and also encouraged clients to get the help they need and deserve.

When Do I Know I Need Help?

Another side effect of the stigma of mental health is that many clients wait too long to be seen by professionals. As a general rule, if you notice your mood, affect, and behaviors change to a point where functioning in any area your life is compromised (such as at work, relationships, social activities) and the symptoms have persisted consistently for a duration of two weeks it is time to see a professional to explore further. Some clients suffer with severe symptoms for years in silence due to the shame associated with their mental health. If your concerned about a change in your mental health, contact a professional for a screening, you won’t regret taking the time to care for yourself. After all, there is no health without mental health.

Resilience

I am consistently amazed at the resilience, determination, and stamina of my clients. I chose this field because as a young professional I was eager to help people who needed it. In reality, my clients have taught me lessons in resilience. I have personally witnessed the willpower and determination of my clients to work towards creating a thriving and successful life. They motivate me to be the best clinician I possibly can, each and every day.

Just like symptoms of a chronic illness are managed over time, mental illness is a process of recovery. Clients wok to manage symptoms and have good and bad days during the process.

If you or someone you love is suffering in silence with mental illness I would love to chat with you to discuss supporting you on your journey towards recovery. Contact Michelle Smith RMHCI, MS at 405-323-1786 for a free phone consultation

Understanding Anxiety

Anxiety. We all know the feeling. An all-encompassing emotional response to a real or perceived threat. Right now with FSA testing happening in school districts across the state, anxiety levels are sky-rocketed for students, parents, and teachers alike. During times of increased stress you may notice changes in your child’s behavior such as irritability, rigidity, outbursts, and attempting to gain control of the world around them. Although anxiety is a normal emotional response, it can become detrimental especially if ruminating thoughts regarding what “might” happen take over.

During high emotional times such as state testing, you may notice your own anxiety increasing more than normal. Anxiety, like many emotions, is contagious and just being in a setting with high anxiety can increase another’s feelings of anxiety. So how can parents “weather the storm” of testing anxiety season and support and also encourage our students to be the best they can be?

Encourage and Validate

Parents, teachers, and adults sometimes struggle to validate children who are dealing with anxiety because it may not make any rational sense. For instance, maybe you have an honor role student who consistently performs well on standardized tests; however, they are feeling an overwhelming sense of dread the morning of the test. You may feel challenged to validate your child without agreeing or dismissing their feelings. Validate and encourage your child or teen’s feelings anyways, note how difficult it must be to feel so out of control at times. Use statements like these below:

“It makes sense that you are nervous about your test, and I know you will do your best and make it through anyways!”

“I can tell you are worried about the test coming up, especially because you have been picking your nails more lately. Is there anything we can do to help you feel better about it?”

When validating remember anxiety feels REAL whether it is a perceived or imaginable threat. Try to take a trip down memory lane to your middle school or high school years and connect to your experience with anxiety. Allow your child to vent if necessary, and reward them for taking steps towards their future.

Model Healthy Coping Strategies

The history of anxiety comes from our caveman ancestors who were driven by fear to escape life threatening situations such as being chased by a bear. In 2018, anxiety comes from worry thoughts that trigger the same “fight or flight response”. The problem comes when there is nothing to run away from, then you or your child can be left with symptoms such as rapid breathing, increased heartbeat, sweating, or trembling. You can help encourage your teen to begin utilizing healthy coping strategies in times without high emotion, so it is easier for them to practice the skills during anxiety.

Breathing Exercises

Teaching simple 4 count breathing in through the nose, and out through the nose is a wonderful tool to teach children at a young age. When our mind is on overdrive, we can calm the body which sends a message to calm the mind. Deep breathing helps bring our body to a relaxed state and out of the “fight or flight” response. Bring your teen or child to a free community yoga or meditation class, make a date of it to tune in and focus on your breathe.

Get Into Logical Mind

Many times when anxiety becomes paralyzing, we can make a shift in mood by engaging our logical mind, or the part of the mind that focuses on logic versus emotion. To engage this part of the brain help your child focus on a number game, count backwards, or engage in a writing exercise. This takes attention off the emotion and brings the body back to an equilibrium state. Sudoku, meditative coloring, even math problems can help in times of intense emotion. Engage with your child and model these behaviors for most effective practices.

Acceptance

Although your child or teens emotions may be more intense in the next couple weeks than normal, it’s important to remember anxiety is a part of life that your child can and will learn to manage to live a fulfilled life.

It may be easier to minimize or dismiss your child’s anxiety, taking the time to acknowledge it may be the difference between learning how to cope and manage these feelings or burning out. And remember… testing season will pass!

 

For more information on anxiety, mental health services for your child or teen, or psychoeducation for families contact Michelle Smith, MS, RMHCI and Middle School Guidance Counselor at 405-323-1786 for a consultation.

Why Knowing Your Child’s School Counselor Is So Important

Let’s face it. School brings out another side of our children that maybe parents do not get to see at home. Our children spend the majority of the hours in the day at school. Children spend more time at school than they do spending time with family, participating in extracurricular activities, and even sleeping! As a middle school counselor, I have had the privilege of serving over 500 middle school students this past school year, and I would encourage each and every parent to establish a close relationship with your child’s school counselor. Here’s why:

Not All Counselors are Created Equal

School counselors wear many hats in school. Likely they are the ones encouraging your child’s academic success, helping students apply for high school and college, and providing social-emotional support as well as juggling other administrative tasks. My personal background is mental health focused. My goal this year was to increase student’s understanding of self, and increase their coping skills to navigate life challenges academically, socially, and emotionally. At my school, both guidance counselors have a mental health lens and provide support to the entire school from this perspective. I believe this is vital for many students and families.

It may surprise you that many school counselors have no or little understanding of counseling whatsoever. Some school counselors hold teaching certifications and were “promoted” to this role through effective work in the classroom. Unfortunately effective classroom management does not mean this individual is ready to handle the reality of the real life issues that come about in the guidance offices such as suicidal ideations, family conflict, low-self-esteem, broken families, poverty and more. I have seen many school counselors push these extremely important issues to the side, just because they were not trained on how to effectively provide support to a student or family.

School Counselors Are Busy

Establishing a good rapport with your child’s counselor opens the door for future communication regarding your child’s academic success, behavior, and changes that are noticed in the school. Working in a smaller charter school, I have been blessed with the opportunity to get to know my students on a very personal level. In larger schools, counselors may not have the time or ability to do this. A recent study by the American School Counselor’s Association (ASCA), suggests that the average guidance counselor spends about 38 minutes with your student in an entire school year! If you are present and send the message you are engaged in your child’s schooling, the counselor may be more likely to give you vital information happening at school such as conflict between peers or teachers, concerning drawings or messages, or just a sudden change in mood or affect. This is important information parents need to know so that you can follow up at home and to create a bridge between school and home life. If you haven’t yet, make an appointment with your child’s guidance counselor to introduce yourself. Face to face communication goes a long way!

Teamwork Between Families and School

Many times when I contact families to provide referral for therapy, resources for food or clothing donations, or insight into their child’s behavior I receive resistance. One thing parents and guardians need to know is that school administration wants to work as a team with you and your family. When school administration contacts you with information regarding your child, it is for your benefit and understanding. The intention is never to place blame, but to work as a team to provide consistency throughout the child’s life at school and at home. Remember that school is a whole different setting for your child, and it may bring out another side you have not seen yet. Trust in your school administration that they have your best interest at heart!

Michelle Smith

RMHCI, MS

Middle School Counselor

What Parents Need to Know About the Social Media Children and Teens are Consuming

It would be an understatement to say that social media govern the lives of our youth at any given moment. A recent study reports that tweens ages 8-12 spend an average of 6 hours in front of a screen a day, for teenagers 13 and above that number increases to 9 hours a day. Our youth are spending more time online than they are sleeping, in school, or doing any other activity.  As a parent, it can be confusing and concerning navigating the waves of the technological boom and deciphering an appropriate boundary when it comes to social media.

The internet is a vast plethora of 7.4 million people’s imaginations. The information shared can be dangerous, violent, sexually exploited and worse. Our children’s minds are not fully developed to consume this content and distinguish the validity or even make decisions about it. Even adults at times have trouble distinguishing this content, can we expect our children and teens to be able to decipher it without support or knowledge from a caring adult?

You may be thinking “Well my child is advanced enough to understand it”. Unfortunately, science says otherwise. The prefrontal cortex, the area which covers the front part of the brain, controls planning, complex thoughts and behaviors, decision making, personality expression, and moderates our social behavior. Essentially, it governs our executive functioning. Because the prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until age 25, many of our children do not have the ability YET to carry out the critical thinking necessary to be safe online.

In addition, studies have also shown that social media can be addicting. In fact, app developers are actually working to make these apps addicting so they increase their revenues, spending thousands of dollars on studies of the brain to market and reel in our vulnerable youth. Scientists have found that teenagers can even experience withdrawal symptoms from social media. You may have seen witnessed some of these in your own children such as panic attacks when electronics get taken away, anxiety about being away from electronics or wifi, anger, and temper tantrums. We wonder why our children’s attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. The media they are consuming is a large contribution.

Consistent social media usage also leads to low self esteem, cyber bullying, and can increase suicidal ideations for teenagers already struggling with depression. Bullying no longer stops when your child gets in the car to go home from school. Now harassment follows them home on their devices, preventing the opportunity for children to recharge and engage in self care.

If you haven’t downloaded and looked at some of the things your child is consuming online, you are living in parenting La La Land. Teens post nude photos, suicide ideas and plans, gang related or violent material, and drugs and alcohol. 30% of teens have reported in a recent study that they believe their parents know “nothing” or “a little” about what they do online.

Last week I spent a lot of my time providing support to a family who recently found out their 14 year old son was sending sexually explicit content and sharing homicidal ideations with an active plan to friends on an app called Hangouts.  This app is accessed through Gmail accounts, and friends can message back and forth in group chats. It broke my heart to watch a loving and caring mother begin to see the reality of what is happening on her child’s social media. For this family, early intervention is no longer an option. They are now playing catch up trying to provide the support needed for this young man.

Be proactive when it comes to restricting media content from your children. Taking away electronics if they have already had unlimited access will be harder than setting firm and clear boundaries in the beginning. Provide regular restrictions on the amount of time your child spends in front of a screen. Encourage them to engage in their own imagination and be mindful in the moment instead of SnapChatting it. Look for signs of social media addiction such as anger and anxiety from being away from electronics, being up all day/night in front of a screen, and being secretive regarding their social media usage. Make sure you know your teen’s phone and computer passwords, Apple ID, and the multiple accounts they may have.

Parents are responsible to protect their children. Social media provides a false security because we do not see the danger in the moment. It is our responsibility to research and discuss the dangers of social media with our children. Provide incentives for them to be without social media until 16 years old, when the brain is more capable to consume such confusing messages. When you do allow social media, track it on a regular basis using apps like Onward, Onpact, and Life360. There is an effective way to parent in the world of technology and social media!

If your teen is engaging in alarming content or you see signs of internet addiction it may be time to talk to a professional. For a free consultation for therapeutic services contact Michelle Smith RMHCI, MS at 405-323-1786