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Go Ask Mom

Go Ask Mom

In search of social media wellness: Author, Duke alum offers solutions for tweens, teens, adults

Posted September 11
Updated September 12

Ana Homayoun, author, educator, school consultant

Ana Homayoun, a noted expert on teens and millennials, author, school consultant, speaker and educator, will bring her tips and strategies for helping tweens and teens survive our digital world twice to the Triangle in the coming months.

First, she'll stop at Jordan High School in Durham for a 7 p.m., Thursday, program about teens and social media wellness. The general public is invited to attend the program, which is organized by the PTAs of Githens Middle School and Jordan High. And, at 7 p.m., Nov. 2, she'll return to the Triangle for a session at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh. Both programs are free.

At both, she'll talk about her latest book, "Social Media Wellness: Helping Tweens and Teens Thrive in an Unbalanced Digital World." The book explains the new language of social media socialization and details ways parents and educators can work with students to promote self-regulation, safety and well-being, according to the description. People who purchase the book also will have acecss to parent, educator and student e-workbooks to help implement the strategies it recommends.

"I want parents, educators and students who read the book to really understand how to implement the strategies," Homayoun tells me.

The book trailer on YouTube has some eye opening information and great tips.

Homayoun also is the author of "That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week: Helping Disorganized and Distracted Boys Succeed in School and Life" and "The Myth of the Perfect Girl: Helping Our Daughters Find Authentic Success and Happiness in School and Life." And, she is a Duke University graduate and active alum, who returns to the Triangle about eight times a year to work with schools, at Duke and visit friends and associates.

I checked in with Homayoun to learn more about her work and how we can help our kids (and ourselves) in this digital world. Here's a Q&A:

Go Ask Mom: You've been working with teens and kids for nearly two decades. What and when were the first signs that social media was really starting to take over the way they live their lives?

Ana Homayoun: When I first started working with students, I focused on helping middle school, high school and college students improve organization, time-management, personal productivity and overall wellness. My first book, That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week, is all about promoting better executive functioning skills with tween and teen boys.

In the early 2000s, students would tell me their main distractions were food, their siblings, pets and daydreaming. About a decade ago, I noticed more and more students were struggling to self-regulate their time online. (Remember, when I first started my work, there was no Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, or Instagram. Google was a small company up the street from my office in the Silicon Valley.)

Now, it is common for students to tell me that "the entire Internet" is their main source of distraction. Students today face a challenging paradox: the very technology teens use to get their work done also provides their biggest distractions from getting their work done. Over the past five years, I've visited schools around the country that have one-to-one computer and tablet programs in their classroom, and helping them develop curriculum around promoting better executive functioning skills at a time of seemingly never-ending digital distraction.

GAM: You come from the angle that social media isn't necessarily good or bad. We've all heard about social media horror stories. What are the positives?

AH: In my book, I talk about how social media isn't necessarily bad or good - rather, technology and social media in particular have created new opportunities for communication.

In my second book, The Myth of the Perfect Girl, I introduce the idea of Community Clusters, that is, this notion that we all should have different communities where we feel as though we belong, we are listened to, and we feel included. For some people, social media has helped create a positive sense of community and belonging online. Over the years, I've seen kids who have moved to a new area, or who don't feel particularly connected to their school community, or who aren't able to attend school because of illness, find positive, supportive communities online.

One of the examples I give in my book is of a high school senior who really did not feel a sense of belonging within her school community, and had a vibrant community of supportive followers through the Tumblr blog she created. For her, that sense of community was really valuable. We see this with adults, too - I've been able to keep up with my college friends through Facebook and Instagram, and many of them, particularly in Raleigh and Charlotte, have been hugely supportive of my books and my work.

Remember – we always want people to feel a sense of belonging, to feel included, and to feel listened to and heard. What works for one person might not work for another. SOCIAL MEDIA WELLNESS is all about encouraging online and in-real-life experiences focused on kindness, inclusivity, and belonging.

GAM: How has social media changed the way kids socialize? What are the pros and cons? It seems like so many of them are stuck on their phones instead of getting out and actually being with people.

AH: Social media has created new opportunities for socialization, and in the book I talk about three Ss - healthy socialization, effective self-regulation, and overall safety as a way to provide a foundational understanding of how we need to work with kids to promote habits that encourage social and emotional wellness.

The role of parents and educators has always been to promote healthy socialization - whether that is in the classroom, at home, on the playground, or now, online. Social media has created a new language for socialization, and I wrote SOCIAL MEDIA WELLNESS to help parents and educators understand this new language, and give them the tools to promote wellness online and in real life.

I talk about many of the cons around social media use in this New York Times piece I wrote on the Secret Social Media Lives of Teenagers. Many of the conversations around social media use have been based on fear rather than values development, and SOCIAL MEDIA WELLNESS aims to change the conversation. According to 2015 research from Common Sense Media, 25 percent of teens who go online believe their parents know “a little” or “nothing” about what they do or say online. Thirty percent believe their parents know “a little” or “nothing” about what social-media apps and sites they use. We need to understand how teens’ perceptions are key, because when they believe parents and educators are unaware or uninformed, they are less likely to seek out their parents’ guidance and support in times of need. It’s crucial for adults to realize how promoting healthy socialization, effective self-regulation, and overall safety should be paramount objectives.

Many adults complain how kids seem to be stuck on their phones, and parents and educators need to work with tweens and teens to promote effective self-regulation. In terms of brain development, we know that the pre-frontal cortex of teens and tweens is not fully developed, and even if they want to make good decisions and develop better habits around online use, it can seem near impossible. I encourage parents and educators to come from a place of empathy and compassion rather than frustration and anger. For tweens and teens, the short term gratification of a new notification, text, or Snap can quickly overpower the desire to complete tasks that might relate to longer-term goals around learning and academic success, and they need help developing the habits and building the intrinsic motivation to do so.

GAM: You'll be in the Triangle a couple of times in the next couple of months with your new book "Social Media Wellness." (I'll get the exact dates, schedule in the post). Who did you write the book for? What's it about?

AH: Yes, I am thrilled to come to the Triangle, where I will be speaking at Jordan High School in Durham on September 14th and will also be speaking at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh on November 2. I wrote the book for parents and educators who want to understand the new language of social media socialization, and to know how to help their kids have more positive experiences online and in-real-life.

The book is filled with practical strategies and solutions on how to help students manage distractions, reduce anxiety, and promote social, emotional, and physical safety at a time where it seems as though there is a never-ending stream of content coming at kids (and adults)! This book - like all my work - is positive, realistic, and solutions-focused - and is based on my work with thousands of students around the world over the past two decades.

GAM: As we complain about teens stuck on their phones all of the time, if we look around and are honest with ourselves, so are many parents. How can we be better role models?

AH: That is an excellent question. One of the things I discuss in the book is how we should not approach kids desire to be online or be on social media from a place of punitive fear - after all, many adults have a difficult time self-regulating their use of technology, too! Instead, I encourage families to come up with a collaborative agreement and mission statement around their social media use (which I discuss and give examples of in the book). Parents and educators who are able to build in structured time for digital detox - for instance, one school I visited in Charlotte had a Power Down Day, and many of the parents I work with have an offline Saturday afternoon from 2-5 pm.

One of the main issues where parental modeling around tech use is distracted driving - that is, checking a phone or sending or text messages while driving (which is illegal in most states, including North Carolina). Parents sometimes don't realize that one of the main reasons teens send text messages at a time where it may be inappropriate is because they are responding to parents who want an immediate response. It is important for parents to step back and realize that safety should always be the first priority.

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