The following is a guest post by Emily Roberts, The Guidance Girl, in honor of the release of her excellent new book, Express Yourself: A Teen Girl's Guide To Speaking Up and Being Who You Are.
“I wasn’t thinking; it’s all a blur.” This was the answer I received from not just one, but five girls in the same week to the question: “Help me understand what you were thinking when you decided to take and send the pictures?”
These girls didn’t know each other but they were all brought to my office for the same reason—digital drama. The precocious preteens and young adults, who were between the ages of 12-17, had all been caught sending nude or revealing pictures. In some cases, the pictures were intercepted by parents on the receiving end—how mortifying! This was over five years ago, and things have only become more challenging for teens in today’s digital world.
Anything we say or do online can stick with us forever; it’s our digital footprint and virtual reputation, which doesn’t just impact us online. It creates an image of who you are offline, too. Many teens don’t have the skills to manage the online world without getting sucked into drama.
I noticed that teaching kids how to respond to digital dilemmas, such as how to say no or how to respond to friends confidently, was like teaching teens a new language—they had no idea how to respect themselves or others online, nor did they realize the long-term ramifications of their impulsive actions.
And how could they? The adults guiding them had never lived in a world where they had to worry about these things. That’s why I wrote my new book Express Yourself: A Teen Girl’s Guide to Speaking Up and Being Who You Are. This book is a guide for handling any situation (digital or in person) with confidence. Readers learn skills to manage intense emotions and learn what to say and do in tricky situations.
As a psychotherapist, I work with children, young adults and their families. My background in trauma and neurochemistry has allowed me to work in particular with many adoptees. I have been looking at the brains of our kiddos for over ten years through neurochemistry testing and individual therapy.
All teens have impulsivity issues and trouble managing their emotions, but a child who has endured trauma often has a much harder time managing intense emotions. Many of our adoptees are already wired to have less impulse control and higher reactivity.
Whether it was trauma in-utero (mama was stressed, therefore excreting massive amounts of cortisol, or she didn’t have access to prenatal care); or neglect, abuse or abandonment later on, trauma impacts the current brain chemistry and behaviors of our children.
When your child’s brain has been overstimulated from the get-go, or your child endured experiences that left her stuck in “fight or flight”, one of the most challenging things to ask of her is to slow down. Her brain just won’t let her.
Add in a digital data plan to the mix, along with the natural process of brain development and raging hormones and the odds are, your kiddo has already done something online that he or she would like to take back.
Tween and teens are their own publicists. They are making decisions that can make their image look amazing or ruin their lives. There is only so much you can do once they get their first cell phone or go to a friend’s house with a webcam. But how do you get a teen whose brain is naturally wired for instant-gratification and impulsivity to slow down and be smart online? Here’s one of the many tools I give readers:
PAUSE Before You Post
Have you ever sent a text message in the heat of the moment, say when you were mad at someone, and then later looked at it and thought, Wow that was actually kind of mean. I never would have said that in person. You may have been embarrassed by your own behavior, ashamed, or even confused about what got into you. When you act impulsively and say the first thing that comes to your mind, it’s likely you’ll end up wishing you had given your message a little thought before pressing send.
Use the acronym PAUSE to make sure you are respecting yourself and others before texting or posting, and reduce your chances of saying something you’ll later regret. This is a key component of being assertive. Think of the acronym as your own personal PR team. Here’s what PAUSE stands for:
P — Put down the phone or the mouse for just a second.
A — Ask yourself what your intention—your desired result—is for what you’re about to text or post. Is the intention a positive or negative one?
U — Urge surf. Just like a wave comes crashing down, an urge will lose its momentum if you give it a moment, and then you’ll be able to think more clearly. Your urge won’t last forever, and the last thing you want to do is press send when you’re at the peak of frustration or any intense feeling. Acknowledge your desire to post whatever it is you feel like posting, but don’t do it yet. Distract yourself by doing something else just for a minute, play a game on your phone; call a friend, write in your journal, do something else for now. Give the “wave” time to lose its momentum and crash.
S — Say it out loud. Other people will hear your comment as if it’s in your voice. Try it with a mean tone and then with a nicer tone. Which way do you think it will be heard?
E — Edit. Before pressing send, make any changes you need to make to your message in order to be clearly understood. Add an emoticon to indicate your tone, delete words that are too forceful, or delete the whole message and start over.
Remember to PAUSE, and you will have an easier time online!
Emily Roberts is the author of Express Yourself: A Teen Girls Guide to Speaking Up and Being Who You Are. Emily, also know as The Guidance Girl, is a practicing psychotherapist, parenting consultant, educational speaker, and media contributor. She is a guest contributor for Dr. Drew On Call on HLN, HealthyPlace.com, and is also a parenting consultant with Neurogistics Corporation. She and her furry companion Milo split their time between their East Village ensnarement in New York City and Austin, Texas. You can find Emily Roberts on social media:
Check out Carrie Goldman's award-winning book Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear (Harper Collins, 2012). www.carriegoldmanauthor.com