We are all familiar with that text or email tone that interrupts a conversation, a thought, or even a peaceful moment of silence. For many, that tone sets of a series of actions – mainly, we stop what we are doing and divert our attention to the incoming message. In an age when nearly everyone has access to a device capable of messaging or accessing the internet, being plugged in means being in constant communication.

There are benefits to this instant and constant communication. For starters, the number of times I’ve left my grocery list at home and have needed to text home to ask for a picture of the list is uncountable. But what about the drawbacks? For teens and adults alike, having access to constant and instant communication comes at a price. Tasks, such as homework, take longer. A study conducted by Gloria Mark at The University of California, Irvine found that when a task is interrupted (whether by technology or another person), it takes on average 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task. In addition, constantly being interrupted is known to increase stress levels. Frustration increases and the mental effort given to a task diminishes. That math problem that requires analytical thinking now becomes an impossible feat.

Distractions and work output aside, being in constant and instant communication also has several negative social drawbacks. Because we live in an age when we have access to our friends at the touch of a button, we tend to expect a response instantaneously. When we send a message and don’t get an immediate response, anxiety and frustration can spike. Should these emotions arise for adults, we are likely able to manage them through rationalization and understanding. Teenagers and pre-teens, however, have a more difficult time understanding why a response is not forthcoming.

In addition, when a snarky or otherwise hurtful message appears on a teen’s social media feed, responding immediately can cause permanent damage to a friendship.

Let’s take the following (completely fabricated) Instagram comment as an example:

xOBeachBumXo: [Posts selfie in two-piece at beach]

TotallyRudeFriend: Ew. U look fat in that suit. Y would u post this picture? ?

TryingToBeAGoodFriend: So rude, TotallyRudeFriend. U think ur hot? Look in the mirror.

You may laugh at the corniness of this example, but comments like this happen every day on social media – but typically laden with expletives and harsh name-calling.

When xOBeachBumXo sees this exchange, she is likely hurt by TotallyRudeFriend’s comment. TryingToBeAGoodFriend attempted to stand up for her, but is only adding to the drama of the situation. If BeachBum responds the moment she sees the comment, the response will likely not be productive or useful to repairing any hurt feelings. Instead, it is important for her to be able to put the phone down, practice mindfulness, and process her emotions before responding.

Here is where the value of open and honest communication with a caring adult is paramount. Teenagers do not have all of the skills necessary to be able to navigate ugly conversations such as this one. Relying on an adult to support her and offer wisdom and insight is necessary for her own growth and emotional development.

How can you help your teenager practice mindfulness and resist the temptation to respond to every text/social media post immediately?

  • Set an example. When your phone rings or a text message arrives, resist your own temptation to respond immediately – especially if you are in the middle of another task or spending quality time with your kids.
  • Have a digital-free zone in your home. When arriving home, park the phones in a central location where they are left until a designated time. Yes, even the adults.
  • Keep the phones/iPads/computers out of the bedrooms. Being left unattended with technology rarely produces positive outcomes. All technology should be used in a public location of the home.
  • Have daily discussions about technology use and online interactions. Practice talking about social media and technology now, when there are no fires to put out. Having a foundation of open and honest communication about technology use and online behaviors will come in handy for when (not if) an issue arises.

These are just a few simple tips that you can use to help your teen resist the urge to be in constant communication with their peers. Reach out to us at AIMEd to work with your adolescent or to set up a Parent Ed session at your school!