As I continue to work with teens in counseling, I’m constantly learning their new trends, ways of life, and outlooks on everything from family, to relationships, to friends. The newest sentence that keeps popping up in my sessions is: “I like my internet friends rather than my real life friends.” When I ask why the response is usually something like: “My internet friends don’t judge me” or “I feel comfortable talking to my internet friends because it’s not a face to face conversation” or “my internet friends are nicer, more accepting and understand what I am going through.”
While these conversations always raise a red flag for me (i.e. online pedophiles, etc.) I remain calm and retrieve some information about these “friends” they are referring to. Back in my day, chat rooms were a big craze and you really didn’t know who was chatting on the other end. Today, apps like Instagram and Skype are used more often for online friends to connect and chat. This makes teenagers feel like they know the person on the other side of the screen because they can see their pictures or speak to them in real time. Texting apps are also a huge way that teens are “socializing” with their friends they meet online. Obviously, still, there can be predators on the other end.
What concerns me, mentally, though is the social wall that these teens are building. I have seen numerous clients push their “real friends” out of their life so much, that they are left with nothing but an online presence. They shut the real world out, and let the cyber world in. It’s already bad enough that our teens are constantly on their phones while actually with friends (and, okay, let’s be honest, many adults do this too)…but now, many teens desire to hang out in their room alone to chat with their online friends. And this type of seclusion is unhealthy and unbalanced.
So, what can you do if you see that your teen is falling prey to this behavior?
- Talk to them: Make it a point to communicate with them. Not only about this, but about anything. The more you show that communication is healthy and normal, the more they will start to implement it as well.
- Be in the know: Educate yourself on the apps and websites that your child is using and who they are friends with. Most likely, you wouldn’t want your teen driving off with a stranger without meeting them…treat the internet friends the same way.
- Help create a balance: As long as you know that your teen is safe on who they are talking to online and on their phone, then give them limited time to “shut themselves out” from the world. Encourage them to spend quality time with friends, siblings and even you!
- Be an example: When spending quality time with your teen whether it’s shopping, eating dinner, or just hanging out, make it a point to put your phone down and be involved in their life now.
Call today at 407-622-1770 or click here to schedule an appointment counseling services for your teen.