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With a recent study revealing that suicide-related hospital visits for teens and tweens have almost tripled, we think it’s important for parents to talk to their children about difficult subjects like depression and anxiety. So, we asked 3 mental health professionals to share the 5 keys of talking with your family about the sadness associated with social media. These experts share everything from tips to managing sadness to age-appropriate talking points parents can use to start a discussion.
1. Share with your children your own feelings of sadness and how you manage it
Teodora Pavkovic, Psychologist and Parenting Coach, @PsycoachTP
As a psychologist and parenting coach focused on parenting in the age of technology from a strengths-based and emotionally literate perspective, addressing this topic is incredibly important.
Check your “H.A.L.Ts” (Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired). If you or any of your family members are in one (or more!) of these states, talk about the self-care you need first. Being in a H.A.L.T state reduces productivity and cooperation.
Explain to your family that emotions are our internal data. Our emotions let us know what is going on inside and outside of us, so that we can make changes accordingly. Emotions are also a kind of language; they are meant to be shared. Always encourage sharing.
It is very hard to say what causes an emotion. Your children shouldn’t fear using social media or being online, but the evidence thus far shows that some restrictions are necessary. Dr. Jean Twenge’s work suggests that tech-use in the excess of 5 hours/day is linked to a 71% greater likelihood of one suicide risk factor in teens. It’s also important for students to know that the online world does not equal the real world.
Share with your kids your own feelings of sadness, and the patterns you notice around them. Talk to them about how you deal with your sadness, and let them know you are here to listen and help in a non-judgmental way.
2. Remember that a child’s top needs are to feel safe and loved
Dr. Carla Marie Manly, Clinical Psychologist
It is important to show your child your own genuine emotions (e.g., sadness), yet make sure that you, as the parent, talk to your child when you are in a calm, non-reactive state. Your child will pick up your emotions, so it’s important to be sensitive to this issue.
Consider the setting and environment when talking to your children. Make sure that your children are not hungry or tired before having important discussions.
Be honest with your children, yet take care that the level of information imparted is age-appropriate.
Discuss the importance of reaching out for help when you are sad or feeling bad inside–no matter your age.
Make sure that you truly listen to any questions your children may have, making kind, gentle eye contact during discussions.
Use open-ended questions to check on your child. As an example, you might ask, how are you feeling right now? What thoughts are you having? Avoid questions that can be answered with a yes or no.
At the conclusion of your discussion, remind your children that you are available for any questions or thoughts that might arise.
It is VERY important that your children know that you, as the adult and caregiver, are safe. Your children may fear that if the parent is sad that suicide may be an option. Talk with your children at an age-appropriate level about your resources and how you cope with sadness. In other words, remember that a child’s top needs are to feel safe and loved. Let your children know that they are safe and loved.
3. Remind your children that it’s okay to ask for help
Jodi Aman, Psychotherapist, @JodiAman
When parents want to discuss sensitive topics with their children, they should consider utilizing the talking points below.
- It’s okay to ask for help
- Let your thoughts out. Negative thoughts can start to have a negative impact on you
- People are not what they appear to be online. Don’t compare yourself to them
- Make an effort to connect to people in person. Take breaks from the news feed
- Engage in activities outside your comfort zone from time to time. Build trust in yourself