The New Cigarette: Social Media and Smartphones

What thoughts come to mind when you see this picture?

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How about this one?

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Are you as shocked as I am?  It's hard to believe there was ever a time when society didn't realize the harmful effects of smoking.

For years, adults happily smoked cigarettes having no idea it was shortening their lives or causing cancer.  Children saw their parents smoking and wanted to do it too.

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Cigarettes were invented in 1865 and became mass produced in 1881.  It wasn't until 1964, 99 years later that cigarettes were officially declared to be a health hazard.

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Now we have a new health hazard that is very popular, in fact one billion people use it.  Only this time it's a mental health hazard.

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You might be thinking I'm talking about the cell phone that Steve Jobs is holding, but I'm not.  Look closer.

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It's the apps. Not all of them, but a lot of them.  And they are changing the chemicals in our brains because we as a society are addicted to them.  And that isn't on accident.

Remember when it was discovered that Phillip Morris and other companies intentionally made cigarettes addictive?  Scientists researched the right amount of nicotine to add so that users would become hooked.

App designers are doing the same thing.  They have hired people with PhDs who have studied addiction and asked them, "How do you we get people, especially children, to look at their phones throughout the day and night, so that they are addicted for life?"

These scientists work in what are called persuasion labs, or dopamine labs, trying to find the answer to that question.  This is one such lab called Boundless Mind.

This is a screenshot I took today from their website.  The yellow highlight is mine.

https://www.boundless.ai/

In case you can't read it, it says:

Revenue and virality depend on engagement and retention.  Becoming a user's habit is necessary for an app's survival.  Fortunately, habits are programmable: we do what we're reinforced for, What Delights us.  Getting reinforcement right isn't luck, it's science.  Neuroscience, specifically.  

There are scientists working in labs trying to figure out how to make you addicted to your phone.  Why? Revenue.  As in money.

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And I mean tons of money.

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When Snapchat went public it became worth more than the Marriott Hotel International Franchise.
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Like Boundless Mind says, it's not luck, it's neuroscience.  Dopamine to be exact.

When dopamine is released in your brain, you feel you good.  We seek activities that will give us dopamine.  The more we have, the more we want.  Using cocaine gives us 500% more dopamine.  And pornography gives us dopamine that will last in our brain up to 8 hours.  But other less serious things give us dopamine too.

Think about your last 24 hours.  Did you check your email?  Did you get any text messages?  Did you get any notifications on your Facebook page?  I can answer yes to all three of those questions.  All of them released dopamine.

After our brain is flooded with dopamine, we crash.  When we crash, we want more dopamine.  This can makes us feel depressed.  When we get lots of dopamine, we can feel anxious and aggressive.

If our brains are bathed in dopamine all day, it can affect our ability to make decisions.

And when I say bathed, I mean, swimming in dopamine.

I just googled "bathing" to find a picture of someone taking a bath in a large tub.  That was a dumb idea.  Moving on.... 

On average a teenager is using their phone 12.5 hours a day.  That's a pretty big bathtub.

Just imagine a picture of a big bathtub right here because I don't want look through any more of those google images. 

You probably are wondering what Boundless Mind and all those other persuasion and dopamine labs are doing to get teenagers on their phones 12.5 hours a day.  I mean, there are just so many times you can check to see if you got a text, right?  Right.

You guessed it.  One way is pornography. The industry knows that the younger they can expose children to pornography, the longer they have a customer for life.

Here's an example of how they do it:

There is a celebrity who has one-third of the nation following her on Instagram.  As of today, her last 9 photos have been pictures of her naked in provocative poses covering or blurring the crucial bits.  Thousands have reported these photos to Instagram.  Each report gets the same message:  She is not in violation of Instagram's guidelines.

If you have a teenage male living with you who has an Instagram account.  Look at his explorer page, these are pictures that he did not get to choose for himself.  You'll see exactly what the app designers are trying to get him addicted to.

And this is just one isolated example.  In the future I'll write more about sex and smartphones, but I'm guessing about now you want to stop reading this article and take away your children's cell phones.

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But don't!

Utah is in the top 5 in the nation per capita for suicide.  It is the state's number one cause of death for children ages 10 to 17.   It is currently reported that the top two reasons for attempted or completed suicide is for either 1) having their cell phone taken away, or 2) cyber bullying.

Young men can go from ideation to completion of suicide in as little as 15 minutes to 2 weeks.

Fortunately, there are still lots of things we can do to help these teenagers.

Some changes should be made right away, like deleting musical.ly.  Seriously, if you know any teenagers who have that app, it's dangerous.  Children are learning self-destructive behaviors, like cutting, through music videos on that app.

Delete this now.
Another change that should be made right away is to start hugging your family members.

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And I mean really hug them.  According to Dr. Christy Kane, an expert in digital addiction, we should all receive 8 hugs a day for 8 seconds each.  That's over one minute a day in a hug with someone else.  This simple act will release a natural hormone called oxytocin that can stabilize us.

If your kids say they don't want to be hugged, they're lying.  They actually do.  Dr. Kane says to appropriately wrestle them to the ground if you have to.  At the presentation I went to given by Dr. Kane and Katey McPherson, an audience member said that she asked her son if she could hug him.  He agreed.  They haven't hugged in 6 years.  So don't be afraid to try.

Another thing you can do today is to visit smartsocial.com  
This website offers tutorials on all the social media apps.  It also tells you what to watch out for on each app.

And here's another thing you can do if you are living with a teenager who is struggling.  Talk to them about emotions and not behaviors.  Let's say a teenager comes home from school and throws his backpack across the room and breaks a lamp.

Here's what talking about behavior would look like:

Why did you throw your backpack like that?  What were you thinking?  You're grounded, mister! 

Here's what talking about emotion would look like:

"You seem really angry right now.  Tell me what that's feeling like.  What do you need from me to help you with that anger?"  

It's easy to get worked up about lamps, but children are more important than lamps.  We have a choice.  We can either create a connection or a disconnection.  And if they feel disconnected from us, they'll find that connection elsewhere, most likely on their phone.

Aside from immediate changes, there are many things we can do to help our tweens and teenagers who are bathing in dopamine to overcome their addiction to the apps on their phones.

In Pleasant Grove, Utah, we have a place called the Green House Center that is offering parenting classes on social media starting May 2, 2018.  For just $40 parents can get 8 weeks of instruction as to how to help their children navigate the social media storm.

For more information, click here.  

There are also plenty of experts who can help guide us towards the right answers to this problem.

Here are a few I've heard from in just the last two days.

Dr. Christy Kane, digital addiction expert and therapist in Highland, Utah

Katey McPherson, national public speaker and author of WTF: Why Teens Fail

Collin Kartchner, follow him on Instagram.

You can join online communities to get tips and help from other parents.

In Pleasant Grove, Utah some concerned citizens and community leaders have created a private Facebook group (adults only) called Parent Screen Awareness where parents can go to get answers from experts, talk to community leaders, and share ideas with each other.  To join this group, type "Parent Screen Awareness" in the search bar on your Facebook page and ask to join.  An administrator will check out your profile to make sure you aren't underage and add you.  No need to be from the Pleasant Grove area.

There are also lots of way you can monitor and regulate your family's cell phones.  I'll list the ones recommended by Katey McPherson, but know this.  The best app is YOU.  Your relationship with your child will do more to create a level of trust and a connection to your child than any app ever could.  Katey McPherson warns that when monitoring someone else's cell phone, you'll need to pick which hills to climb.  It won't be effective to bug them about every single thing they do on their phone.

Here are some monitoring resources:

Webwatcher
OurPact
Screentime
Family Time
Qustudio
Bark - this can retrieve deleted texts
Teensafe - this can retrieve deleted texts
Norton
Circle by Disney 

Smartphones were made available to the public in 2007.  So we've been living with them for less than 20 years.  Already we are discovering the harmful mental health side effects from social media and addiction to our phones.  Which is encouraging considering no studies were conducted on cigarettes until the 1920's and no real serious research until the 1950's.

My hope is that it won't take us 99 years to be able to recognize the mental health hazards from unregulated social media use.  I believe together we will be able to find appropriate ways for our children to be introduced to smartphones and the proper use of social media.

And maybe our grandchildren and great grandchildren will be just as shocked as we are when we see pictures of young children smoking.

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"Grandpa, you mean you were allowed to use Snapchat when you were only 12 years old?!?"  
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To find out why the citizens in Pleasant Grove, Utah decided to come together as a community to help parents navigate the social media storm, read the viral article written by Skipper Coates, a Pleasant Grove Junior High teacher who asked her students to anonymously answer this question "What my parents don't know about social media is _______."

To read the heartbreaking article, click here.  

I'd like to end this article with the words of my son, soon to be 18 years old.  I'm embarrassed to admit he has said this to me more times than he should have.  Even just once is too many.

"Mom, put down your phone and love me more!"

  

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