Media and technology have changed our lives in many positive ways. Radio brought local and world news, and entertainment to our family rooms. Television brought these things to life, and in color. You no longer needed to go to a show or a movie theatre, as television brought nightly shows, as well as news programs. And then television evolved more with the inception of cable – more channels, more shows, more movies, and more news – all day long.
All of a sudden, you could watch the stock market in real time, while listening to analysts talk about economic forecasts. While in college, I remember watching Wolf Blitzer reporting on Operation Desert Storm with SCUD missiles exploding in the sky. This was the beginning of real time war analysis – all day long.
Then came that awful day – September 11 – as we all watched the planes fly into the towers – over and over and over again. As a child psychologist seeing children and families, I saw children who were traumatized by that image. Many thought that every time they saw the plane crash into the tower, it was happening again and again in real time.
Google and others made the internet easy to navigate and readily accessible to all, while Dell and others brought down the price of computers so the commoner could afford to have access to all that the internet offers in the comfort of their own home. What does that mean? You and your children can look up anytime, everything about anything. You can learn about all the diseases that you physical symptoms may lead to – of course the worst scenarios possible. Your children can look up how to make “level up” on their video game, as well as anything else they are interested in or what pops up while they are browsing.
Next came social media. My Space started it all. You can post whatever you have done, are doing, and will do for everyone to see and track – with pictures! Then the powerhouse emerged – Facebook, followed by Twitter, Instagram, Kick, and Snapchat. In the moment, real-time communication is now possible about both important and highly insignificant daily activities and news – all day (and night) long.
Our world has changed. Don’t get me wrong, our innovation is changing the world in many positive ways – we are connected to our family and the world in ways that would have been inconceivable in the not so distant past. However, these same tools also increase our anxiety, worry, and fear, as we have access to EVERYTHING that is (and may be) going on in the world, and in our friend’s and family’s lives.
Fear and sensationalism sells. What is on the news most of the time? Bad and scary news. You can learn about who has been murdered, kidnapped, and raped. You can learn about what country is torturing its people. You can learn about where we are at war and where we are going to war. You can learn about our dismal economic forecast and potential collapse. And every once in awhile, you can learn about something positive and hopeful. Watching the news for me is like playing Blackjack. You sit at the table losing and losing, just waiting for that one Blackjack to make it all worthwhile. But is it?
While Social Media keeps us informed and connected to those we care about and those we used to care about, it also allows one to see what others “have” and what we don’t. Facebook has become the primary way to judge if you are “keeping up with the Jones.” Not only is not helpful, but often what is projected on Facebook, that which you are comparing yourself to, isn’t even real – it’s a projection of what one wants others to think.
While I do believe technology and media is positive overall, I believe we need to monitor it for ourselves and for our children. If we adults are prone to believe all we hear, you can imagine what children and adolescents will believe. And, if you or your child is prone towards anxiety and worry (aka the Worry Monster), the news and media will only serve to grease the tracks for worry and fear about all the bad things that “may” happen and “could” happen in the future.
If you or child is prone to worry, limit the amount of time you (and your children) watch the news. Monitor what your curious child is looking up on the internet and consider having the computer in a main room or space where you can see it. If you or your child worry about what others think of you and what you “should” be doing, limit the amount of time you are on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter. We don’t watch the news much in our house, and haven’t for years. My parents often say, “How will you know the important things that are going on in the world?” My usual response to them, and to you, is that I haven’t missed anything important yet.
Dan Peters, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist who has devoted his career to the assessment, consultation and treatment of children, adolescents, and families, specializing in learning differences, anxiety, and issues related to giftedness and twice-exceptionality. Dr. Peters is co-founder and Executive Director of the Summit Center, with offices in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles. He is the author of Make Your Worrier a Worrier: A Guide to Conquering Your Child’s Fears, From Worrier to Warrior: A Guide to Conquering Your Fears, and Raising Creative Kids (co-authored with Dr. Susan Daniels). Dr. Peters blogs regularly for The Huffington Post and Psychology Today and is a frequent media guest.
This piece originally appeared on www.psychologytoday.com.