Ep 9: Smartphones and Social Media

Episode Summary

Joani Geltman, author of the bestselling book “A Survival Guide to Parenting Teens”, explains how to handle teens who are addicted to their electronic devices. She has found that kids are texting during class, posting on SnapChat while they do their homework, and browsing Instagram until 2 or 3 AM.

Show NotesParenting ScriptsWorkbook ExercisesInterview TranscriptGuest Bio

Full Show Notes

Are teenagers addicted to phones? Is your teen addicted to their phone? Have your boundaries and restrictions on its usage been met with fierce anger and resistance? Are you scared to confront your teenager about social media? If you are, you’re not alone!

Has social media created a generation of teenagers addicted to phones? Smartphones and social media are designed to be a candy-like addiction to your teen’s brain. Billions of dollars have gone into researching the designs of apps and devices to get teenagers addicted to phones. Unlike candy, though, the phone gives its user a lot of control. If you have your kid power off their phone and leave it outside their room before bed, they can still remove the SIM card and hide a burner phone under their pillow! They can still be up until 2 or 3am texting their friends or browsing Instagram!

If you want to solve your teenager’s potential addiction to phones and social media, look no further than Joani Geltman to learn how to do just that. Joani has been talking to parents of adolescents and successfully coaching them through these kinds of problems for over a decade. She is the author of A Survival Guide to Parenting Teens: Talking to Your Kids About Sexting, Drinking, Drugs, and Other Things That Freak You Out. Having been featured in a number of national newspapers and scores of blogs, she is a much sought-after speaker. After talking with her, I could tell why.

Joani points out that being in her late 60s, she’s seen parents go through a lot of change. Before smartphones, teens usually had to get out of the house to be sneaky and break the rules. Now, kids can break all sorts of rules from the comfort of their own home behind the safety of their smartphones. Parents have never been challenged like this. And they feel powerless. Joani believes teenagers addicted to phones are creating problems unlike anything parents have ever seen before.

Social media is affecting teens and their parents in unprecedented ways. It is taking control out of the hands of the parents, and giving it to teenagers. There’s only so much parents can do about teenagers addicted to phones. Your house may have rules, but social media isn’t going to enforce them for you. Instead, it gives kids a lot of control. Parents can’t control information, and they can’t control who their kids are talking to.

Kids have always done what they can to be sneaky, but there’s so many more opportunities to do that now with social media. It’s a scary equation.

Joani thinks this generation of parents has a very low tolerance for anger. They’re frightened by their kids’ anger, they have a hard time saying no, and they’re afraid to set limits. She sees this with teenagers addicted to phones, where parents are not setting boundaries and time limits because they are afraid of their kid getting angry. She’s heard people respond to ideas for such limits saying, “‘If I ever did that, my kid would kill me!’ No! They would yell at you, but that’s about it.”

She doesn’t want parents to be powerless, and she doesn’t want any parent to be afraid of their child. Teens don’t feel like they have to ask permission anymore, and she sees what happens when parents engage out of fear and not out of patience. She notices that parents often don’t take time to come up with ideas to help their kid in a given situation.

A teen might just walk out the door at night saying, “Hey, my friends texted and we’re going to the movies. I’ll finish homework when I get back.” Rather than see parents take a breath and wonder why their child might feel the need to act in such a way, she often just hears about parents yelling, “You better not do that!” This naturally starts a fight when the teen argues, “But I’ve already bought my ticket online and my friends are on their way in an Uber!”

Parenting out of patience is something Joani talks in great length about. She offers a ton of tools and techniques for addressing teenagers addicted to phones, but they take time. This isn’t an overnight solution. Getting control of your kid’s phone and enforcing limits will feel like hell, but after a month or two, it’s paradise. What kids don’t realize is that you are doing something good for them.

Teenagers addicted to phones don’t know how to self regulate. They need parents to step in and interfere from to time to time, because otherwise they do get addicted to other substances or activities, too. Joani talks about how teenage brains aren’t developed enough to know the difference between the real pleasure of the outdoors and the manufactured pleasure of social media. They don’t realize that the dopamine-inducing pings of their phone create anxiety.

What Joani exclaims is that when you break your teen’s social media addiction, they will be relieved! They will feel better! Dealing with the anger they first throw at you is perhaps the most loving thing you can do for teenagers addicted to phones. Unfortunately, Joani recognizes that not all parents do this. It’s challenging as a parent to step out of the mold. To have the strength and security as a parent to do this when few other parents are. But by doing so, you can make a difference in not just your kid’s life, but your kid’s friend’s lives!

Kids will always have excuses for the trouble they stir. When it comes to teenagers addicted to phones, they also have the pressure and influence of numbers. They will feel pressure from their friends to stay connected. This pressure can then be applied to parents because teens will want to have all the freedom with technology that their friends are being given. After one night of enforcing time limits on your teen’s phone, you might be approached in the morning with the complaint, “Look! All my friends were texting at night. Why can’t I? It’s not fair!”

This is where Joani wants parents to be strong and empathetic. Your kid might be right in pointing out that few other parents are setting up these restrictions. Still, she wants parents to have the security to say, “I know this is hard for you, but I know this is the right thing to do. You can be mad at me if you want, but this is what’s happening.”

You will probably get screamed at. It will probably feel extremely abusive. But if your limits are working, then there is nothing else your teen can do until he or she gets better. Until teenagers addicted to phones learn how to regulate themselves on social media, and have their own limits and restrictions to phone usage, they need parents to do it for them.

Teenage addiction to social media is massive and regrettable, but again, parents are not powerless. With enough patience, you can observe your teenager’s habits and learn what is really at the heart of what they’re feeling. Teens deal with a lot, and phones are only feeding them more anxiety. Fighting teenagers addicted to phones out of fear won’t make it any easier for them.

Of course it’s infuriating when they make excuses and even lie. But rather than get angry at the lie, Joani suggests pausing and asking yourself why they might feel the need to lie in the first place. Being an empathetic voice and not an angry voice will be a great asset when it comes to setting up boundaries. The teen will probably be angry no matter what, so it’s your response that makes all the difference.

Joani is a force of nature and an inspiring voice. She is very aware of the problems teens and parents are facing, and she tackles them all head on! Other topics that we discuss in the interview include:

  • Parental Controls – how to get control of your teen’s phone
  • Awake Parenting – not leaving your teen unsupervised with technology at night
  • Sleep disorders and the hell of parenting a sleep deprived teen
  • Juuling and vaping – new causes of teenage addiction to substances
  • How to talk to an angry and abusive teenager
  • Using data to communicate to your teen
  • The language of emojis – instant validation and rejection
  • Role playing with your kids before college so they’re not reacting to situations, but proactively strategizing and problem solving
  • Deescalating fights to talk calmly with your teen, and still say “I get it” and “no”

With so many years of experience, Joani has so much wisdom to share. Please don’t miss out on this episode!

Parenting Scripts

Word-for-word examples of what to say to your teen

1. How to respond when your teen says ‘but nobody else’s parents do that’

“I know it feels unfair because your friends are doing it. I understand that’s really hard for you. And just like I wouldn’t let you eat all your Halloween candy in one sitting–I knew to give you 3 pieces a night–I don’t expect you to understand this either. And you can be as mad as me as you want, I can take it.”

-Joani Geltman

2.  When your teen is feeling stressed before a big exam, empathize with their feelings:

(Members Only)

3.  When you get into the heat of an argument and things are blowing up:

(Members Only)

4.  Stop an argument when your teen won’t quit pestering you about something:

(Members Only)

5.  When you find yourself getting triggered by your teenager:

(Members Only)

6.  What to say when your teen isn’t taking “no” for an answer:

(Members Only)

7.  Confront your teen about their sleep using the data:

(Members Only)

8.  When your teen complains about missing out because of your rules:

(Members Only)

Workbook Exercises

Step-by-step guides for applying the ideas from this interview

1.  Respond Properly to Angry Outbursts:

When you introduce a drastic set of new rules to your teenager (like the idea of putting parental control software on their phone) you’re going to get some resistance. They will call you completely unfair and the worst parent in the world and probably something worse too. Joani recommends being prepared for this. She says you need to avoid fighting back. Remember, you’re in control of the phone. You can shut it off completely if you want. But you need to say this in a nice way. Below are a few examples that Joani gave during our interview and a couple of my favorites as well. On a piece of paper, come up with some of your own. Picture your teenager screaming at you and picture yourself responding calmly and with love using one of these lines. Now you’re ready to talk to your teen about sleep. Good luck!…
-”I know it feel unfair and I get that your friends are not having controls on their phones. I understand why you feel angry.“
-“Just like I knew not to let you eat all your Halloween candy on one night, I know not to let you Snapchat all night too. I don’t expect you to understand it now.”
-“Being the bad cop is the hardest part of my job. I do it because I love you so much and want to prepare you to put limits on yourself soon.”

2.  Collect Data on the Effects of Your Teen’s Sleeping Habits:

(Members Only)

3.  Confront Your Teen with their Own Data:

(Members Only)

4.  Uncovering the Emotional Reasons Behind Your Teen’s Behavior:

(Members Only)

Complete Interview Transcript

Joani: Hi, Andy.

Andy: Hey, thank you so much for being here. I’m really excited.

Joani: I can’t wait to talk with you today.

Andy: Okay. So as I was reading your book, I found myself like, “Oh, I got to write that down. Oh, that’s great. That is brilliant.”

Joani: That makes me so happy.

Andy: Where did you come up with a lot of this stuff, and then what inspired you to write it down and all that?

Joani: So I’m going to be turning 66 on December 7th. So I’ve been doing this in various forms for many years, starting off as a regular, I’ve a social work degree, but I was just a regular therapist in schools and I had a private practice, but adolescents was always my favorite age group to deal with them, and I had other, I would see couples from now, now, but kids were really my thing. And I worked in a school. Then I started teaching. Some of the people in my class were middle life people changing careers and they had teenagers. And so when I was teaching human development and when I’d get to the adolescent piece, they would say to me, “Joani, this is helping me so much in my life. You should go out and teach this to parents.”

Joani: And it just never occurred to me to do that. So actually, my students, my graduate students, gave me this idea. So one of the courses I taught was adolescent psychology. So I just decided to do adolescent psychology, the parent version. And I started by going to public libraries and doing it for free. And that was about 10 years ago, I started that. And then so I just started this whole model, and then I gradually added more talks. So I have a bunch of these talks. And after I started doing the adolescent psychology one, I decided to start a blog. And then I want to say a couple years into that, I don’t know, people kept saying to me, “Your blog should be a book. Your blog should be a book.”

Joani: So I really, knowing nothing about publishing, literally took the blog and made it into a book. And I had also self published, another book called, I Get It, Three Magic words for Parents of Teenagers. What I love about it is that I have a short attention span, and I didn’t want to write it for someone to have to sit and read through a whole book. It was important to me that people, and I do parent coaching and I coach the same way. It’s not therapy. It’s not counseling. Parents come to me and say, “I’m having trouble with my, I just found a vape pen.” I’ve had this one, and it’s a big one.

Joani: Recently, I had a parent who was talking about how angry her daughter was and they were having a really hostile kind of relationship, and both parents were there. And I said, “Oh, can I see a picture of your daughter?” And I could tell that she had a little bit of a weight problem. And I just said,” Oh, she seems like maybe she has a little weight problem,” and then she said, “Oh my God, she’s five feet tall. She has the hugest breasts. She’s so uncomfortable in her body. All she wears is sweatshirts. Kids make fun of her. She used to love sports. Now she can’t do sports anymore because she’s embarrassed about running.” And so they’re painting this picture and I’m like, “No, your poor kid. No wonder she’s angry all the time.” I said, “She’s got these huge boobs that are getting in her way.” It was the first time in my career I said, “If you have any money, get her breast reduction.” That’s my best suggestion to you.

Joani: And they were like, “Oh my God, we would never have,” it just would not have occurred to them. And they immediately, Christmas vacation, she’s getting, she broke down in tears. It was like they got her. And that’s what my whole philosophy is about. When your kids feel understood, then they don’t need to act out. They don’t need to get angry. Anger is fine. Anger is a good thing, but it’s more about when you get why they’re showing you that behavior, if you can just take a second and not just react to an attitude, to a lie, to avoidance behavior, not doing homework or not getting your college applications in, rather than seeing it as laziness or whatever, just say, “Well, what else might be going on?”

Joani: This girl’s dealing with huge amounts of stress. She can’t even articulate what they are, but she’s angry. And so that freed the parents up then to not react and get into a power struggle with her every time. They can say, “Oh, I get you’re having a bad day. I’ll give you some time.” And so I can do that in session. I don’t need 15 sessions.

Andy: I love that. And I think then that’s one of the big things that I talk about with parents a lot is like, you can’t just launch into something. You have to start with that empathy and making them feel you understand them, and it’s not that hard. My brother right now, he just started working at a suicide hotline. So he’s been doing the training for months and learning all these techniques and stuff. And he’s like, Yo man, it’s really improving my relationships so much in my life.” And I’m like, “Well, what, what?” And it’s just simple stuff like asking them about what’s wrong and then saying, “That must be so hard for you.” And just figuring out the emotion behind what they’re saying and reflecting it back to them, and just some simple statement that just shows that, “I get it, and I understand, and that sounds really, really hard.”

Joan: Well, I just have an experience with my student. This semester I’m teaching freshmen Intro to Psych, and it’s just chapter after chapter. It’s a survey class. I try to make it as interesting as I can, but the textbook is pretty deep to get through, and so I was giving the midterm and a student who is very assertive in class has a number of times complained about the work, even though it’s just reading the book and doing some papers. It’s not that much. And the night before the midterm, I got a text from her, and I’m giving you what I thought the affect was because I could tell from her, and she literally said, “I want to give you some feedback about your teaching methods.”

Joani: And she launched into, “How do you expect us to study for this midterm?” And, “This is too much work.” And I got the text, and for the first minute I was like, “You little…” I was like, “Well, this is college. Welcome to the world.” There was a part of me that just wanted to write back and say, “Well, you’ve had half a semester to do the reading and you can take notes in class. There’s really not much more I can do about it.” And so I got that out of my system. And then I texted her back, “I get you’re feeling really overwhelmed. This is a lot of material and I can see that it feels hard for you to plow through it, but I know you take good notes and I’m sure you’ll be okay.” The text I got back was, “Oh, okay, thanks.” That was it. Over. Done.

Joani: And now you can translate that incident to any situation with a parent and teenager where the parent would probably go into, “Well, that’s just the way it is,” and they would feel attacked. Understandably, I felt attacked. And my first instinct was to get defensive. And I think for parents, that’s the first instinct because who they are as a parent is how they identify themselves, and if they aren’t doing a good job, they take that very personally. So I was happy for myself that I practiced what I preach, but I also gave me empathy for parents to know how easy it is to just want to go for that visceral reaction rather than taking the breath and trying to say, “Okay, what’s really going on here?” And once you do that, you really can de-escalate the situation.

Andy: It’s like that classic Abe Lincoln story where he writes the letter and then puts it away for 24 hours before he decides if he’s going to send it or not. And it’s nice to happen over text messages, but of course it’s more difficult if the student is in your face saying, “You’re a terrible professor,” or whatever, but that is so cool and really effective. And I wonder if you, sometimes you’ve got to be working with parents where they’re getting triggered by their teenager like that. In the moment like that, when that happens and you feel that start to happen, what do you tell parents?

Joani: I actually have a strategy that I call Four Ways Of Fighting, and there’s four of the typical kinds of fights you would get into with your teens, and the one you’re talking about is The Saying No fight. And so what happens a lot is kids tell their parents, “I’m doing this, I’m buying this. I’m going here.” It’s because they feel this new sense of power, so they don’t feel like they have to ask permission so much anymore.

Joani: It’s like, “So and so and so and so are going here, and this is where,” and their parents were like, “I don’t think so.” So there’s the strategy when you are feeling in control. Oftentimes, parents are feeling out of control. They’ve had a bad day. What I say to parents is, “You have a life and you bring that life to the table when your kid brings his life into the room. You might be taking care of an elderly parent, and you’ve got other kids who have special needs, or your work is incredibly stressful. And so maybe you get hooked into that fight. Now, here’s what you can say when you’re both in it, you can say, We’re both out of control now. We need to take a break.”

Joani: So I tell parents, “You share the ownership.” It’s not just your kid. It’s not like, “Just get out of my face. I’m not talking to you when you’re yelling at me,” and that happens a lot, where parents will then try to put the stops on it by pushing the kid out. And that can sometimes get into a physical altercation because kids are very motivated to stand their ground. At this point, they’re not going to back down. Kids are not motivated to stop a fight ever. So it has to be the parent. So the line is, “We’re both out of control right now. We need to take a break.” And then I say, “Go away. Don’t tell your kid to go anywhere. The only person you are in control of in that moment is you. Go take your dog for a walk.” Go do a laundry, but don’t go in the next room.

Joani: Don’t walk into the family room if you’ve just had this fight in the kitchen, because they’ll follow you. Kids are very motivated. They will follow you, and I call them the chasers. They’ll just chase you into another room, so you need to give yourself time to quiet yourself and to give them time to quiet themselves. I do this joking thing, but parents have used it and it works where sometimes kids will not respect any boundary and parents have not been great about setting limits. So the kids, especially if there’s something they really want, they will follow, if parents have gone into the bedroom and closed the door, for example, kids will just go right in.

Joani: So I say, “Parents, look at them right in the eye and say, honey, in this tone of voice, I’m about to take a shower and I’ll be getting naked, and if you want to hang out with me and talk while I’m naked, yeah, we can talk.” So that’s the end of that conversation. So that’s what you use in desperate and desperate situations. Then you go back to your kid, and now you’ve had a chance to calm down and they’ve had a chance to calm down, and then what I tell parents is, “Don’t start in with your agenda first. Don’t say, honey, this is what I’ve been trying to say.” I say, “Don’t do that.”

Joani: You walk in and say, “Tell me what you’d like me to hear.” You give them the opportunity to speak first, and then maybe there’s something you can work with now. Maybe they’ve been texting with their friends and everyone’s like, “Oh, my parents won’t let me do this either,” and they’ve gone back to the table and they’ve come up with a new plan that maybe parents can work with, and then the parent might be saying, “You know what? I think we can work with this,” or it’s a no, or it’s a no, but now the parent is in a better position use what I call, I Get It moments. My book is peppered with them and the other book was called, I Get It, is to say, “I get you’re frustrated right now. This is not the answer you wanted. You’re pissed at me.”

Joani: And a little shrug of the shoulders, which is the weight of parents put the period on the end of the sentence so that they don’t just keep going and going and going because oftentimes parents will just over explain over, and kids are not listening. They stopped at no. As soon as they have said, no they’re done, but if a parent is calm at this point, they can now have empathy. Of course you’re frustrated. I say to parents, “What do you think your kid’s going to say? When you say, No, you can’t do it, they’re going to go, Oh, good parenting call. Thanks for keeping me safe.”

Andy: “Thanks, mom.”

Joani: I said, “No, they’re going to be mad.” And I think this generation has a very low tolerance for anger. They’re frightened by their kids’ anger. They have a hard time saying no, because they’re frightened by the anger, especially with things like social networking. Rather than setting limits on time, on number of apps on which apps their kids are on, they say, “Oh my God, if I ever tried to do that, my kids would kill me.” And it’s like, “No, they would yell. Right. And they would get mad,” but they have a very low tolerance for their kids’ anger. They’re scared of it, and I don’t know that any other generation has had that I’ve seen that, because I have a long trajectory of seeing, what parents are like over these years.

Joani: And I think that that social networking has taxed parents in a way that they have never been challenged before, really been challenged. And I think they feel powerless so much of the time now, and I’m not sure that any other generation of parents felt so powerless in the relationship, and there is so much that kids can do and have power from that their parents really have nothing unless they, whatever. For me, it’s time and opportunity. That’s really the only limit. You’re going to give your kid a phone. They’re going to be some things that you say no to your kid about that you’re in control of, but social networking still allows them to do many things that you’ll never find out. Snapchat allows them, any secret app that allows parents to not see what’s on their kid’s phone, that takes them out of the equation. I think it’s scary. I think parents are more scared than I’ve ever seen.

Andy: It’s a lot of control that has been given up, I think, that you used to be able to control information, what they’re seeing, when they’re getting it, who they’re talking to, because they would have to use the phone.

Joani: That’s right. You could listen in, or you didn’t know what they were doing. When they left the house, they didn’t have a phone. So whatever they left with is what they left with.

Andy: Unless they somehow made a different plan ahead of time-

Joani: Which all kids do. All kids do.

Andy: But now you can just walk out the door and say, “Okay, mom, I’m going here,” and then text your friends and say, “Actually, I’m going here.”

Joani: Which is normal. There’s totally the normal range of those kinds of behaviors. I just think the things that kids see as options now, because they can. We were all sneaky, but we couldn’t go to great lengths to really hide that much from our parents, and there’s a lot of opportunities to be able to do that now, and that’s a scary equation.

About Joani Geltman

The author of the bestselling book, A Survival Guide To Parenting Teens: Talking to Your Kids About Sexting, Drinking, Drugs, and Other Things That Freak You Out, Joani Geltman has been featured in or written for USA Today, The Boston Globe, The Washington PostHuffington PostPsychology Today, Mommy & Me, Boston.com, Working Family, Global Post Parenting, and on scores of blogs.

Geltman has spoken to thousands of parents, educators, and students at hundreds of schools. The sought-after speaker delivers more than 40 seminars a year to schools, community groups, businesses, churches, and temples. She has developed seminars such as: Adolescent Psychology The Parent Version, Sexting and Texting What’s A Parent To Do?, Understanding Your Teen’s Drinking and Drug Use, and  Bullyproofing Your Teen.

She has served as an adjunct professor for the past two decades at Curry College in Milton, MA. Geltman teaches in the department of psychology, covering child and adolescent development, family psychology, and dysfunctional family life.

A resident of Natick, MA, Geltman earned her Bachelor of Science in education from Lesley College and her Master of social work from Washington University.

She posts regularly on www.paperblog.com  and blogs three times a week at www.joanigeltman.blogspot.com.  For more information, please consult: www.joanigeltman.com