O'Brien County's Bell-Times-Courier -

Phones and "Likes" No Substitute for Parents and Friends


September 26, 2019

Marissa Dahl

Marissa Dahl visited the South O'Brien Elementary on Monday September 16 accompanied by Tyler Youngers. Both are Instructional Technology Consultants with AEAs; Marissa from Heartland and Tyler from Northwest. The event was sponsored by South O'Brien's PTA.

Dahl presented the most recent findings of research about youth and social media and cell phones. Her focus was to give adults insight into parenting in an online world. She notes that a parent's assessment needs to begin with a teen's state of mind with tech use.

In many cases children as young as 5th grade are using a cell with access to Facebook, Instagram and SnapChat. Too often children this young use these tools with no rules.

One research project found that teens used their phones up to seven and one half hours per day. She ties together the concept of rewards to the heavy use by kids. One study showed that brain behavior, i.e. release of chemicals such as endorphins, can cause the receipt of "Likes" from a post or picture, can stimulate the release of the endorphins and sending youth onto a path searching for the positive reinforcement of those "Likes". Often young users of these tools are not ready for the self-regulation required to successfully use these tools. She offers that parents intensify their effort to talk with youth, listen and support them.

Dahl also suggests that these results coincide with a rise in depression in 12-17 year olds and 18-25 year olds. She suggests strengthening the parent/child relationship without the phone, recounting comments from youth saying, "they wish they never had it," or from adults expressing concern that their kids "won't have friends if they don't have [a phone]". She recounted research that suggested kids without cell phones or social media have deeper relationships and are never cyber bullied.

Adult imposed structure and boundaries are recommendations from Dahl. She also warned against FINSTA (Fake Instagram Accounts). She reinforces for the adults that blocking and/or muting individuals in okay. She advocates for parental involvement online. In being involved she promotes checking, asking tough questions of the kids and reinforces that it is okay to ask for help, either with the technology or with a youngster.

Going back to research supporting the state of mind of youth and the reward mentality created by "Likes", Dahl says, "Make sure they are seen, heard and know they are loved. Now more than ever." She says, "Neer let them feel they get love from screentime." Being a role model with social media can also be a positive support piece for youth.

For current research and tools commonsense.org has many ways to help.


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