Are we more or less social?

Group of happy teenage friends having fun

With all of our technological connections it’s easy for us to feel like we are being social, and yet, many people report feeling lonelier than ever before. Other people mistaken interactions on social media as meaningful connections with others. Below Screenagers explores this social media phenomenon and how it relates to relationships.

Do your kids think social media has made our society more social, or less? Plain and simple we all will benefit from looking deeply and honestly at this question. This week alone I heard two stories about social media and disconnection as well as one story of a teen who decided to limit her social media to promote connection.

The first story came via an email that a high school counselor wrote me, “I had a conversation with my students yesterday about friendship. Most of them said they did not have any true friends. I asked why and they said they couldn’t trust anyone because of social media. One minute they think they have a friend and the next minute they are talking behind their back.”

The second story came from a father who was telling me about his ninth-grade son. He described his son as introverted and said he spends very little time socializing face-to-face with friends and yet he is often on Instagram and tells his parents that he is social. The dad is concerned about this disconnect—so little time with friends and yet a sense that these small online interactions define what his son thinks of as his social life.

In the recent book, iGen, Jean Twenge shares survey data in which 31% more 8th graders reported feeling lonely in 2015 than in 2011 and 22% more seniors felt lonely in 2015 than in 2011. Sadly a higher percentage of adolescents report feeling lonely now than any time since the survey began in 1991.

So what are the solutions? We all want our kids, and ourselves, to have healthy, meaningful in-person friendships. The reality is that we need to be more intentional. One way is to encourage your kids to join in-person groups where social media is not present, and face-to-face relationships are nurtured.

A teen I spoke to last week decided to delete Snapchat from her phone for a month for Lent because she often feels left out of things—seeing what everyone else was doing made her feel lonely. In preparation, she contacted her close friends and told them what she was doing, and they should contact her via text. Two days after she deleted Snapchat she told me how much happier she was not to be reminded what others were doing without her….she said with a big smile, “Ignorance is bliss.”

For us as adults what are the things we do to promote, and hence model, our own need, and appreciation for supporting friendships? This week I decided to go for a short walk and knock on a neighbor’s door, just to connect with someone I like. When I sprinted out the door, I didn’t know which neighbor’s door I would knock on, but I knew I had to act quickly before my time-pressured, stay-at-home self took over.  I ended up having an excellent 10-minute discussion with an old acquaintance in her doorway, and then I ended it with saying how great it was to see her and invited her to knock on my door anytime, and then I was off. It was short and sweet, and perfect.

Let’s explore ways we can increase our face-to-face connections with others. Here are some questions to get the conversation started:

  1. Who would you like to spend more time with in person?
  2. How might you connect more with your neighbors?
  3. Do you think social media has made our society more social or less social?
  4. What are some of your favorite thing to do with friends online? Face-to-Face?
  5. Do you have friends you consider close but you mostly interact with online?

If you have loved one who is struggling with their ability to connect with people in person call Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.

Checklist for Parents

Checklist With Green Checkmark Icon


When families are faced with mental health issues it is hard to know where to turn for help and what kind of questions to ask when you get there. The Royal College of Psychologists, based in London, England put together a helpful list for parents in this situation.

Researching and speaking to professionals can be overwhelming at first. Whether you are questioning what issue you might be facing, or you are experiencing a first time hospitalization or medication issue this list is helpful to parents and family member. To find the list click here, or copy and paste this link into your browser http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/healthadvice/partnersincarecampaign/checklistforparents.aspx.

Another helpful resource is engaging with an Educational Consultant to help guide you through a difficult time. If you have loved one who is struggling call Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.

How do we help struggling students?

Throughout the United States students are struggling with mental health issues, which is unfortunately being demonstrated with school shootings, bullying and rising suicide rates. Educators and parents are grappling with what can be done for these students. Earlier this year Ashville Academy and the Hillside Center in Atlanta co-hosted a luncheon to discuss continual care for students to help administrative professionals and counselors understand the many options available to help this youth mental health crisis.

Tamara Ancona was asked to participate in the panel discussion and offered the perspective of an educational consultant and an expert opinion on the process families go through to get their student the right kind of help. Attendees walked away with a clearer understanding about options available, choosing the correct program and where students fit into the continuum of care.

If your school is interesting in hosting a similar discussion call Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC, at (678) 297-0708 to schedule a time.


Digital Etiquette

Digit Etiquette


Etiquette is a word people typically associate with formal events or something their grandparents would have lectured about. However, with the rise of digital devices etiquette needs to be discussed more openly – namely digital etiquette. Screenagers focused on this very issue – how we can better employ digital etiquette around others and how we can teach our children the same skills. For their tips, please read below:

Our kids learn a lot about how to behave with other people by watching us. They see us listen instead of interrupt someone, smile at a cashier, embrace a friend. When we are often out in the social world with a cell phone in our hand, what are we teaching them about digital etiquette? For now, I am not talking about online interactions but rather person-to-person.

Etiquette sounds so prim and proper. If I could clarify more, it would be “nurturing relationships in the face of mobile technology.” But that is a bit long. How do we respect and give undivided attention to the people we are with when dopamine pumps (i.e. smartphones, tablets, etc.) are in our hands? It’s not easy, but I have some ideas to share.

When Everyone Has a Phone But You Don’t

Last week I gave a talk for a school district in Coppell, Texas. A girl about 12-years-old came to the microphone during the Q and A and said, “At my middle school kids can use their phone. We only get one break, and that is lunch. Well, all my friends are on their phones. I don’t have one, and I wish they would talk with me.”

My heart sank a bit but I smiled, and I asked her what she had tried. She didn’t have an answer so we brainstormed some ideas including asking her friends if they could try to put their phones away perhaps one day a week or for a time at the end of lunch.

I encourage parents to teach their children to put phones away when they are in a group of kids who do not have a phone. Maybe they won’t do it, but they are hearing from us what we think is a kind thing to do.

Give a Heads Up

If you are with someone and you decide you need to check your phone, a digital etiquette I love is to say something like “My apologies, (or heads up), but I have to check my phone for a second.” Or, something like “Can you excuse me, I just have to do this one thing quickly.”

Years ago I worked with my family to establish this etiquette so that when we are out together and someone has to check their phone, which we try not to do, we would give a quick heads up beforehand. I had a strong motivation to do this because when someone would turn to a phone, I never knew if they were planning on disappearing into their phone or if it was just for a quick thing. Not knowing meant I often snapped at them—and they didn’t like when I did that—and I didn’t like when I did that either.

Don’t get me wrong—we are not some family in the Jane Eyre novel constantly asking for permission, apologizing and sipping tea. We often don’t give warnings, but we are all aware of it, and we try to.

Keep Devices Off and Away for Meals

My family does not have devices out when we eat a meal together. The visual reminder of the device on the table can create pressure and desire to check messages and notifications and take our attention away from those right in front of us.

I have made sure to teach my teens about the benefits of putting phones away when they are at a table eating with friends. For example, they know how the presence of a phone at the table increases the chances that conversations will be more superficial. So now when they are with their friends, they can joke around about that study and in a subtle way impart this knowledge to their friends. I am not sure of the outcome, but I hope that this all results in more phones off tables and in pockets.

That said, a couple months ago my son told me that he and his friends had all put their phones in the middle of the table at dinner and if anyone checked their phone they would have to cover the bill.  He got this strategy from a teenager in Screenagers.  It was fun to know he put it into practice.

This week’s invite your family or students to talk about digital etiquette. Digital etiquette continues to be a new landscape, and often kids see things that we don’t consider. There can even be etiquette about sharing video game controllers. So many interactions happen around tech all the time. Here are some questions to get the conversation started:

  • Have you seen anyone be particularly respectful when it comes to tech and social situations?
  • What digital etiquette do you try to follow?
  • How do you feel when you are talking to someone, and they pull their phone out in the middle of your conversation?

If you have loved one who is struggling with their technology use call Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.

Put Down that Phone

Cell phone


How often during the day do you ask your teen or young adult to put down their digital devices? Former professor Larry Clayton, has given recommendations in the article below on how to get teens or young adults to put down their phones and experience real life.

Did you know, or realize, that high school students spend about nine hours a day on digital media?

I didn’t spend nine hours a day on anything when I was in high school. Or in college for that matter, not even obsessing about being in college with a coed population after seven years in an all-boys prep school deprived of the normal interaction between the sexes.

This obsession with digital media has resulted in adverse mental, emotional, and physical health consequences. When on campus, I cannot help but observe and hear that just about everyone is glued to their cell phone, walking like zombies here and there. Their conversations can be totally inane.

“Hi, just got out of class.”

Just got out of class? I’m thinking.

“Well, am off to cross the street. Wazup?”

Who cares?

Even guys driving their 18-wheelers are on their cell phones, and when they weave into your lane as they look up a phone number you better move over.

Digital addiction is dangerous, not only for teenagers and college students, but for the rest of us trying to navigate the storms and shoals of life.

What’s going on here? The French appear to be ahead of us. Starting in September 2018, French Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer has declared a total ban of mobile phone usage in primary and secondary schools. Blanquer said it’s a matter of “public health.”

Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, has established the first Center for Digital Wellness — it’s Wi-Fi free! –in the land.

Its founder, Sylvia Hart Frejd, the author of “The Digital Invasion,” summed up the reasoning behind this pioneering effort to deal with a national addiction.

“I like what technology is doing for us, but I don’t like what it is doing to us.”

The major implications of digital technology addiction were explored recently right here at the University of Alabama by Dr. Alan Blum, a professor at the College of Community Health Sciences, and Tomasz Gruchala, a Catherine J. Randall Research Scholar in the Honors College. Their findings, along with those of Frejd and others studying the addiction, are troubling.

After recounting all the good things that come of digital media, like instant access to information, GPS, online viewing of film, art, opera, etc. (our undergraduates are really into opera these days while having a brewsky on the Strip….) the adverse effects were described. Ugly. These are general categories:

— Decline in school performance

— Diminished attentiveness

— Physical and mental health problems

— Incivility

— Less satisfying relationships

On a more detailed level, an increase in narcissism among college students and a decrease in empathy, a higher risk for depression, anxiety, and stress, and, ironically, as Frejd describes it, “even in a hyper-connected generation, studies still show we are lonelier than ever before.”

Everybody is texting, connected, multitasking, and yet the end is loneliness and isolation, unable to deal in real-life situations.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal said true achievers were not multitaskers, but those who could block off the trash and focus on one or two elements at a time.

Let’s invite Frejd to UA for a conference and take some real steps to deal with this. Like any good student of a phenomenon, she has some suggestions for “digital wellness”:

1. IT’S NOT “I TWEET, THEREFORE I AM,” but think twice before you post, tweet, text, or upload it.

2. WATCH YOUR DIGITAL FOOTPRINTS, because they are permanent.

3. UNPLUG. Take a digital “fast” once a week or once a month

4. INVEST IN RELATIONSHIPS. Real people trump virtual ones

5. ESTABLISH DIGITAL BOUNDARIES. Limit when you use digital devices and how much time you spend on them (like, “I should be practicing my piano lesson rather than sitting in front of this computer typing.”)


7. GET OUTSIDE. Take walks, feel the sun, and breathe fresh air.

8. POWER DOWN AND GET SOME SLEEP. Your brain can’t thrive without it.

9. CULTIVATE YOUR “GODSPACE” DAILY. Take time to be still and know that He is God.

10. BE A GOOD STEWARD. Use technology for God’s glory.

I like the above, some of which I do better than others. I am glued to my computer far too long for my mental and physical health. I told my wife that I need to get that Harley like No. 6 recommends above. Now is the time!

If you have loved one who is struggling with their technology use call Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.