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South Valley Journal

Live in real life: the dual lives of modern teenagers

Oct 30, 2018 03:41PM ● By Jana Klopsch

Katey McPherson talked about the importance of validating your children.

By Mariden Williams | [email protected]

On Sept. 17, hundreds of parents packed into the auditorium of Riverton High School for a workshop about the effects of excessive screen time on teens. Titled “Live In Real Life,” the workshop featured keynote speakers Collin Kartchner, a TED speaker and social activist, and Katey McPherson, TED speaker and children’s advocate. The workshop also featured booths run by many local mental health support and teen advocacy groups. 

“We live in a world where you put your front stage forward, and you create worth based on your followers and your likes and what other people think of you,” said McPherson. “Our children don’t know what their self worth is yet. They’re still forming that.” 

There are some unwritten rules that guide the way teens project themselves to their peer group and their followers. For girls, McPherson says, the rules look something like this: Don’t be lonely. Don’t stand out in the wrong way. Never admit to being mad. Never look clingy or desperate.  

For boys, they’re similar: Never take anything seriously— always be chill. You have to be an expert at comebacks and put-downs. Getting adults involved is always a bad thing. 

Two rules that are common between girls and boys? Don’t disagree with your peer group, or you’re disloyal. And always be in the “right” place with the “right” people, and be sure to post about it— because if you don’t post about it, it’s almost like it didn’t happen. 

And even if it didn’t happen, kids may well pretend that it did and post about it anyway.

“Drugs and alcohol seem very current and relevant,” McPherson said. “Even if I’m not doing drugs and alcohol, I’ll pretend that I am, because it keeps me in the game. It keeps me jockeying for position.” In the digital world, absolutely everything is for show.

Many teens have secret alternate social media accounts, where they post risqué, raw, ‘edgy’ things that they do, that they think will impress others in their peer group. 

“Most of them are illegal,” McPherson said. “Some of them can get you in real trouble.” 

Essentially, every teen has two lives: the real-life them that you see and talk to every day, and the carefully cultivated avatar that they express to their friends online. 

“They’re constantly straddling this world and that world, and it creates an immense amount of anxiety,” said McPherson. "It is very difficult for boys to come forward and say, ‘I’m not doing well’ in person. But they will say it online. They’ll say it all over the place online. Children don’t know how to transform pain yet. So all they do is get online and transmit it. They say things they don’t mean. They use words they would never use in front of you. They absolutely lie about your family and what’s going on, because they’re just transmitting their pain.”

One of the best things you can do is communicate with your kids in an empathetic way that will lead to productive, rational conversations, instead of angering them or making them freeze up.

Some examples of bad things to say to a frustrated kid? “You need to calm down.” “You need to let it go.” “Suck it up.” “Your dad and I broke up with people; you’ll be just fine.”

“In the history of people telling me I need to calm down and let it go, I have not let it go,” McPherson said. “I have not calmed down, and they don’t either.” 

According to McPherson, there are two things that will improve your communication with your children: “You getting really vulnerable about what’s going on, and you validating what’s going on with them. Vulnerability plus validation equals connection. That’s what our kids need: connection.”

And if they can’t get that connection and support from you, the parent, they will try to get it from social media.