Suggest that Teenagers Take a Media Break

Okay, you can stop laughing. I don’t mean media as in the social networks, YouTube, games, etc. (I mean, I do think they need breaks from those, but that’s for a different discussion). I mean media as in “the media” media. (Recently called “fake news” or “lame stream media” or “Low ratings CNN”.)

News streams to teenagers from every direction. Their phones blink with push notifications from Apple News. Televisions in restaurants and at gas station pumos blare contradicting reports of facts and figures. Twitter’s Explore feature covers world goings-on. Snapchat’s Discover feature offers subscriptions to news outlets via provocative headlines.

Think teenagers aren’t watching the news? Maybe not intentionally, but they sure are hit by the reality of the world (as told by paid and amateur journalists) every single day.

Contemporary news feeds and sources are unrelenting. The first 24-hour news channel – CNN – emerged onto US TV sets in 1980, but didn’t gain serious traction until 1991 with coverage of the Gulf War. Today there are a dozen channels on cable, hundreds of outlets available via your phone, and millions of opinions coming at viewers through social channels such as Twitter and Reddit.

Aren’t you exhausted?

You ask: what effect does this have on teenagers?

Answer: the same effect it has on you.

The constant barrage of breaking news – stories and video clips of war, refugees, warring politicians, pointing fingers, and terrorism – wears on viewers and listeners. We want to be informed, but there is a such thing as too much. And if you’re a young person who doesn’t have the benefit of age and perspective, you can, simply put, freak out.

A study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychopathology in 2018 cites that today’s “increasingly visual and shocking” news can produce sadness and anxiety in viewers and listeners. “Our studies also showed that this change in mood exacerbates the viewer’s own personal worries, even when those worries are not directly relevant to the news stories being broadcast,” he says.

In a nutshell, the news is making us more anxious about our everyday lives.

Today’s teenagers have only ever known a post-9/11 America. They have been at heightened awareness since the early 2000’s when Department of Homeland Security used the color-coded Advisory System to tell Americans how scared they should be that day.

Image: Homeland Security Advisory System ranging from SEVERE to LOW risk of terrorist attacks.

How can adults help teenagers go on a media/news break? Start with the place where you interact most with the teens in your life.
If you live with teenagers:

If you live with teenagers:
– turn off the television or only stream shows without advertisements (this includes the free version of YouTube where you cannot ensure the types of ADs that will pop up).
– when everything in the house is at its relative calmest, ask all phone-carrying members of the family to open up the Settings feature on their phones to deactivate notifications from news apps. Everyone should also edit their Advertising & Interest Preferences for Snapchat Discover by following these steps. (You can and should opt out of Ad tracking as well.)
– Tell your teenagers why your house is going on a media diet.
– NOTE: these rules go for you too, adults. If you’re going to ask your child to do something, you should consider how following the rule (or not) might effect their trust in/respect for you.

If you work with teenagers:
– ask that notifications be set to silent during your time with them in the classroom, lab, Sunday school hour, etc.
– explain to the youth why you’re going on a media diet. Ask them if they’ve ever done so, or if they’ve ever considered it. Discuss calmly and openly with them why it could be healthy for them to do so.

If you employ teenagers:
– if your place of business has a TV set, consider streaming a channel that doesn’t show advertisements, or one with family-friendly content whose ads aren’t provocative.
– allow all employees a 5-minute break every hour to check their phones. Otherwise all devices should be kept in lockers, cars, etc. (Of course certain situations require special rules. For example, a teen whose parent is deployed to Afghanistan may request her phone stay on her person, but on silent. Such a request should be complied with and respected by all employees, as was the case for me when my sister was stationed in Baghdad, Iraq in 2003.)

The goal of this break is not to welcome ignorance into the house, school, or work place. As contributing members of society teenagers and adults should know what is going on in their communities and the world at large, but with reasonable limits.

So sit down with your teenagers, whether it’s after a home-cooked dinner of comfort food or after you’ve fed them donuts at a staff meeting or the beginning of your social gathering (never underestimate the importance of food). Talk to them about how they feel when they’re met by an onslaught of media, and help them take a break from the madness.

HOMEWORK: Have you ever taken a media break? How’d it go?

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