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'Facehooked.' Don't disconnect in response to social media issues, says psychologist

Pantagraph - 10/9/2018

Oct. 09--NORMAL -- The answer to teens and young adults being addicted to social media -- and the resulting anxiety and depression -- is not to tell them to "Get off Facebook."

"You can't just say, 'Get off social media,'" said a clinical psychologist who spent three years exploring Facebook and evaluating its effect on relationships. "Because it's their world."

"Parents need to understand social media," advised Suzana Flores.

Flores, who is in practice with Psychology Specialists in Phoenix, was the keynote speaker on Monday for the second annual Behavioral Health Community Forum, presented for youths and adults by McLean County, the city of Bloomington and the town of Normal.

About 200 people attended the forum in uptown Normal, with sessions at the Normal Theater and the Marriott Hotel & Conference Center. Topics included suicide prevention, bullying, self-harm and relaxation techniques.

Flores' topic was "Facehooked: How Facebook Affects Our Emotions, Relationships and Lives."

"I'm a huge fan of social media," she admitted. "Teens and young adults have a voice like never before."

Flores focused her remarks on Facebook because it has been the most popular social media network since 2009.

"But I'm talking about all social media," she said, noting the top users of social media are teens and young adults.

One problem is the person who is presented on Facebook is not the complete picture of the person in real life, Flores said. The extreme example is the 83 million fake Facebook profiles.

A second problem is people are spending more time on social media and less time socializing in person or over the phone.

"Dinner parties have become a thing of the past" and even people on dates often spend part of their dinner on their smartphones, she said.

"The message is, 'Whatever is on my phone is more important than the person in front of me,'" she said.

That means people are missing the nuance and joy of conversation and time for listening and reflection, which leads to misunderstandings, Flores said.

The anonymity of social media also allows people to say things they might not say in person, leading to cyberbullying, which can lead to anxiety, self-harm and suicide. More than one in three adolescents has experienced cyberbullying.

Flores gave the example of a teen who died by suicide after years of cyberbullying that led to physical assault and public shaming.

"What people assume is private has shifted," she said.

People feel obligated to respond to push notifications and use of their smartphones becomes like an addiction.

"There is a fear of missing out," she said. But this has led people to believe that they have lost control of their lives.

Flores said teens have told her, "We can't just get off Facebook because that's where our friends are."

A mother and daughter who attended Flores' address -- Carri Schmitt of Hudson and her daughter, Madalyn, 16 -- agreed.

"You could easily say, 'Stop being on Facebook' but it's such a part of their lives," Carri Schmitt told The The Pantagraph after Flores' talk. "People don't put up posters anymore. Everything is announced on Facebook."

In response, parents and their children need to have close relationships with each other that includes discussing mental health and social media, the Schmitts said. Parents should be friends on social media with their children and their children's friends, they said.

"It's their world," Carri Schmitt said. "We need to be a part of it."

"Social media can be dangerous," acknowledged her daughter. "But it's also opened up opportunities for people to talk and to get the help they need."

Among others attending were Jack Pitts of McLean and Seth Klessig, a special education teacher in Heyworth. Pitts said his son experienced cyber and physical bullying, but he was able to overcome it with help from Klessig, friends and Bloomington-based PATH (Providing Access to Help).

"I've seen more and more kids with anxiety and depression every year," Klessig said. "Parents need to talk with their kids about the dangers that are out there."

"Never give up on your kids," Pitts said. "Let them know you love them always."

Said Flores, "We have to get back to communicating in real life, the way we were meant to. It (social media) will never be a substitute for the real thing."

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Contact Paul Swiech at (309) 820-3275. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_swiech

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