The Real Digital Dilemma: Our Children Need Us to Lead

The Real Digital Dilemma: Our Children Need Us to Lead

Client: I just reached 10,0000 followers on my instagram account! 

Me: Wait. You have 10,000 followers? You are only 14 years old. Who is following you?

Client: I don’t know. People. They just like my photos.

Me: Can I see your photos? 

Client: Sure. They are mostly pictures of me posing. Nothing special. 

Me: Well, you are quite beautiful. Some of the photos seem more seductive than others. What message are you trying to put out to the world on your account? 

Client: Message? I don’t know. It’s just fun to see what people like about me. I feel more confident.

Me: Do your mom and dad know?

Client: Yes. They are fine with it. They really don’t pay much attention. 

 

Instagram entered the world in 2010. Just two years later, in 2012, the underbelly of the Instagram beast regularly showed up in my office in the form of disconnected, self-doubting, anxious users.

I knew very early on that the long-term effects of this “new addiction” would drastically impact developing identities of its users. It took years to have documented evidence showing just how bad it really was; the addiction had rooted itself in the lives of millions, and its poison flowed quickly through its victims.

Sadly, the conversation above is just one of many I have had with teens and young adults over the twenty years I have spent as a professional in the field of marriage, family, and mental health. For the past fifteen years, I have observed changes and trends from within my private practice. In my book Courageous (2020), I unpack memories of sitting with young teens, listening to them recount how worthless and ashamed they felt, in large part due to social media. Many never realized they would end up feeling this terrible from something that seemed so harmless. They were blind-sided, and so were their parents.

Clients struggled with eating disorders and sex addictions.

Some, quite young, agreed to “hook-ups” with random guys that gave them attention online.

Other clients watched Facebook affairs end their marriages.

Young girls sat across from me, confused, lured by predators, unsure of how to disentangle themselves.

Boys learned hard lessons after blasting nude pictures across public platforms that ruined lives. Pornography addiction skyrocketed, among men and women alike, while depression and anxiety spun out of control.

My office was a hot-bed for the trauma brought about by this new addiction.

If you have recently viewed the Netflix special called The Social Dilemma, then you know I am not alone in recognizing the need for reform.

Without shaming parents, who are learning in real time how to manage the overwhelming rise of technology in the home, I do want to help you wise up to the reality of where we really are as a culture. We cannot make any changes without an honest awareness of our current reality. Jesus said, “The truth will set you free,” referring to the truth of the gospel. This also refers to acknowledging the truth of where you are at with this very real “dilemma,” and how it is impacting your life.

Social media exacerbates vulnerabilities and preys on individual weaknesses, but it doesn’t necessarily create the brokenness. Brokenness happens when a core need is not met.

For many young social media users, that need is legitimate relationship. Unfortunately, young teens and pre-teens don’t easily know how to get that need met in a healthy manner and are often slow to ask for help.

As a therapist, I can say with total confidence that many adults struggle with this very same issue. This internal desire for deep relationship is actually God-given. He designed us for community and needing others is a big part of how that evolves. Our culture (and social media outlets) has done a brilliant job coming up with a “quick” fix to this wide-spread emptiness, but it doesn’t actually meet the human need for connection.

While our kids have constant access to countless, conflicting voices, they really need to be hearing a consistent refrain of love and acceptance from one or two caring adults on a regular basis.

Thanks to technology, we now enjoy a wide-spread lack of emotional regulation across society. No need to look any further than a public parking lot to see evidence of that!

We have also lost the ability to make eye contact and to maintain conversation. This is true for many young people, but it’s also true for adults and parents who model these behaviors to their own kids.

In 2010, little was known about the long-term consequences that would affect both children and families, Parents did not have many tools to intervene in growing addictions. Many parents and adults assumed kids were “safe” because everyone else used it, too.

The impact of the digital age has changed our neurobiology as well as our expectations of life. We have different ways of relating to one another, and to the world around us, but the truth is that we were never designed to find our meaning or purpose beyond real life, one-to-one relationship. In fact, research shows that the average person can only handle 60 relationships at any one time (give or take a few). Trying to manage the opinions and needs of thousands, sometimes 24-hours a day, is beyond anyone’s ability, let alone a twelve year old child.

Courageous Girls launched in 2012 out of a response to what I saw daily in my office.

The impact of the digital age on moms, daughters, sisters, wives, (as well as husbands and sons) was too much to bear. I hoped Courageous Girls would be a force moving people in a new direction—one that encouraged healthy and whole relationships; where moms and daughters could come together to exercise their muscles in trust, grace, and face-to-face, authentic relationship. Courageous Girls was founded on the desire to help girls (and moms) discern God’s voice, and to be grounded in the self-actualization that happens when we truly understand that we are loved, just as we are.

After years of avoiding social media myself, I joined Instagram in August, 2019.

Despite the mountain of evidence against such apps, I felt like Instagram could still use a few more hope-filled voices, and I set out to share the message of Courageous Girls and Living Wholehearted.

Before officially signing on, I set up boundaries for myself and for my family. So far, I’m still on. However, I constantly hold this part of my job loosely; if at any time I feel my addictive nature is triggered, or that the platforms are breaking down my family unit, I will jump off.

My daughters cannot hold that same tension on their own. Their reasons for engaging are more fragile and they are more easily influenced. As an adult, my discernment muscles are far more seasoned than theirs, and this is precisely why we, as parents, must engage our kids to help them build similar muscles. We must raise them to resist the pressures of the “social media world” in order to keep them from becoming another commodity for the system at large.

The voices from our screens tell us we need to do more, be more, and have more; they heighten our sense of urgency. It’s not by chance that now, in 2020, the inventors of many of our most addictive platforms confess they never imagined the damage their creativity would cause.

The Social Dilemma, a recent Netflix feature, introduced us to Justin Rosenstein, an innovator who curated the “like” button. He shared that the goal of the original design was to help spread love. No one ever imagined it to be a key factor in teen loneliness, depression, or suicide. Young minds naturally struggle to distinguish the feedback from their own parents and peers, let alone the opinions and comments of strangers across the world.

So what do we do? How can we begin to scale our kids back to solid ground?

Tips going forward:

  1. Watch The Social Dilemma on Netflix. View it together with your family, if kids are old enough, and have conversation about it.

  2. Check out my dialogue with my husband, Jeff, from November 18, on Courageous Girls Facebook Live.

  3. Create a digital device family contract and start using it! Include everyone. Renegotiate as needed.

  4. Talk to your kids about the hard why. We need to teach them to swim in the shallow end of the pool before we toss them into the deep end of social media and smart devices that are trying to woo them as potential consumers.

  5. Ask them for honest feedback regarding how you are doing with your own screen time (TV, computers, gaming, phone, social media. etc.)? Be open to listening to the feedback given and then take that feedback to God in prayer.

  6. Consider waiting to hand your child a smart phone as long as you can. There are other phone options, like the GABB phone, to fill the need for a communication tool. The smart phone does create addiction tendencies and can cause higher levels of anxiety, attention deficient, depression, and other mental disorders. Smart phones also make boundaries tougher to implement around social media usage, because of the availability and accessibility.

  7. Wait until high school (or beyond) for social media on any device, and then limit usage to 1-2 platforms. Every child is ready at different ages. There is not one standard “fit.” Be thoughtful and do your own research. Have full access to all accounts and have regular dialogue regarding usage, time limits, messages your child is wanting to give others, and how she can engage her friends in more “real life” ways. Having a text conversation is not the most helpful skill set for life.

  8. Most young adults complain that they have higher anxiety having face-to-face conversations than over a device. We need to change this phenomenon quickly and Courageous Girls is a part of that movement. Check out the topics and conversations at www.mycourageousgirls.com. You’ll find curriculum, hot topics and resources to help you.

In this together,

Terra

Terra A. Mattson, M.A. LMFT, LPC is the co-founder of Courageous Girls and Living Wholehearted, Author, Podcaster, Counselor and Executive Coach.

@terramattson   www.terramattson.com

Preparing Our Children for the Road of Life – FREE Download at LivingWholehearted.com

Preparing Our Children for the Road of Life – FREE Download at LivingWholehearted.com

When all is said and done, what do you want for your marriage, your family, your home?

Better communication. 

Deeper intimacy and connection. 

More understanding and empathy. 

Less conflict. 

More joy!

These are common statements made whenever we, as a counselor or coach, ask the miracle question of a client: what would be different in your home if you had a magic wand? 

Read the rest of this post and get the FREE download at LivingWholehearted.com

Making a Toolbox for Anxiety

Making a Toolbox for Anxiety

by Megan O’Connell
with Terra A. Mattson, MA LPC, LMFT

Worry has been a constant companion of mine for as long as I can remember.

And as much as I wished it away, it didn’t budge.

So when my fourth grade teacher asked us to write a folktale about a character based on ourselves, I knew right away my story would be about a young girl, The Little Worrier, and her experiences navigating life with an abundance of worry.

As an adult, I learned my high level of worry was something others faced too, but it had a specific, diagnosable name: Anxiety.

Read the rest of this post at TerraMattson.com

Living with Courage – Blog at joyofit.org

Living with Courage – Blog at joyofit.org

Terra Mattson wrote a great post as a guest blogger over at joyofit.org. The title is Living with Courage and here is the intro:

When I reflect on the idea of courage, a particular moment from high school stands out in my mind.

Two of my close friends (both of whom happened to be large, broad-shouldered, football players) were physically brawling in front of our school. Upon realizing what was happening, I marched my 5’6” frame through the crowd that had gathered to watch, and positioned myself right in between the two boys yelling, “Stop!” By the grace of God, and my cat like reflexes, I ducked just as one of my friends threw a powerful fist at the other, ignoring the fact that I was standing between them.

Head over to read the blog post and leave a comment! Living with Courage by Terra Mattson

GOING UPSTREAM

GOING UPSTREAM

How to Foster a Committed CG Group in a FOMO, Uncommitted Culture

I have been married to my husband, an avid fly fisherman, for nearly two decades. I have learned a few things about trout, whether I wanted to or not. If you see a trout moving downstream for more than a few seconds, it’s likely injured or dying. Trout are made to move upstream against the current, and those that do are healthy and strong. I think Courageous Girls are like trout. We are made to go against the grain — to grow muscles we are unaware we have so that we can stand firmly like mighty oaks of righteousness in the midst of a hurting world (see Isaiah 61).

When I started my first Courageous Girls group in 2012, the growing trends of surface relationships, lack of commitment, and the rise of FOMO (fear of missing out) felt like currents I did not want my girls to die in. New to Sherwood, Oregon, I was ready to trust God to build a small tribe that could test the status quo. During the first year of our CG gatherings, I remember feeling so vulnerable after each month of Courageous Girls. I expected moms to change their minds, find something better to do, or slowly lose momentum and bail. When I invited everyone back the second year with the hopes of making this “thing” a three year commitment, I was floored when every mom agreed to continue.

Year two was a little harder, as our casual relationships grew on us like a comfortable pair of jeans and conflicts began to naturally emerge. I had MANY conversations with moms about the dynamics between daughters, their own insecurities about being in the group, and the disappointments of unmet expectations. With every conversation, I found myself turning toward God with a deep inhale, and then exhaling His courage back out to continue on. My own conviction in knowing that all healthy relationships are built over a long period of time, through the struggle of conflicts, helped me to gently encourage us all to hold tight to what God was doing through our hesitant commitment to one another. This is was for our girls. And, this was also for the little girl in each of us.

Based on years of experience leading women, I decided to assign each mom a specific month and lesson to facilitate before the CG year even began. Prayerfully considering which CG conversation might be the right fit for each woman to guide, every mom had a place to contribute and to practice courage. You are welcome! This type of intentional preparation has helped every mom know the plan in advance and settle into the pace of our monthly gatherings together. In early Fall, we took a mom and daughter retreat to catapult us into community, offering only what a retreat can do: awkward depth in a confined space and time. The rhythm of our annual retreat continues to bring the needed glue that now holds us together each year as school life picks up and us moms notice a few more gray hairs.

Even better, I invited moms to get away with me mid-year (without our girls) to dig deeper into our own relationships, adding a slow and steady drip of vulnerability between moms. Now, after six years together, we are taking time to write and pray intentional words over every daughter on the morning of her thirteenth birthday. We now have history and are starting to see the ways in which God has ordained our relationships for His purposes and for each of our lives as our daughters quickly move from tweens to teens.

Everyone gets weary at some point during any journey we commit to. Starting is half the battle, but finishing well is the other half. Commitment is an ‘old school’ virtue we are trying to bring back to the next generation. It holds a vital role in EVERY RELATIONSHIP we have in our lives, and is a hidden ingredient in healthy adults. Remember that when a mama wants to cancel a CG gathering, skip a month, or not participate in leading, we indirectly communicate to our daughters that something else is a priority. That is NEVER our heart’s intent when we decide to stay home this month, and yet, our daughters feel a loss. These groups are not for us. They are for her.

In contrast, our daughters feel our love every time we make this special gathering count, and place the scheduled meetings at the top of our priority list in the midst of all the other activities in our lives. And yes, there is ALWAYS  grace for the occasional missed gathering, but the pattern of not being consistent speaks loud and clear to our girls. What a simple way to speak deep love and loyalty into our daughters’ souls! To say to them, “Today, our time spent together at CG is more important to me than anyone else or anything else! I want to be with YOU!” It is so important to keep the bigger vision of these CG gatherings in our minds when we start to feel the daily grind of life. Our daughters are worth our time and energy, and these once a month gatherings help her FEEL our love. Play Therapy research tells us that children need to have prioritized, undivided attention on a regular basis in order to believe the words, “I love you.”

Consistency and commitment are two characteristics we are desperately in need of in an attention-deficient culture. The only way to attain them is through time and practice. Courageous Girls was designed to be as little of an effort as possible for a pretty big return. With only one meeting a month, rotating homes, and only leading one gathering a year, CG is doable! Even more, when each mom takes a turn to lead group discussions, we model to all our daughters the power of community, the variety of gifts we bring, and what courage looks like in ordinary moments. It changes a daughter’s perspective of her own mom when she sees her leading the way. We have tried to make facilitating a group as simple as reading the curriculum and trusting God to do the rest.

Courageous Girls is not a quick fix, nor is it a clique of best friends. We are not taking short cuts to any unrealistic expectations or overnight miracles, but rather, are leaning into a process of grace and trust in God. God seems to have the habit (see the Bible) of taking broken and not-so-likely candidates in order to use them to change the world. I think Jesus was the only one that really saw the potential in his disciples, so that gives us great hope when we wonder why we are in the groups we are in. Who am I to say that God will not use the women and daughters in each of our groups to transform not only our own lives, but the lives of our families and our communities? I believe all God needs is you and a willing heart. I often see the sign in the corner of the Living Wholehearted Lodge & Retreat that reads, “Shortcuts never lead to anything worth it. Never.” It reminds me to be a like a trout who swims upstream, when I’d rather coast with the flow of the river. Let’s swim beside our daughters and help them learn the ways of the river — let’s lean into the depths of their souls and trust that God created all of us to be strong and courageous!

Written by Terra Mattson, M.A., LMFT, LPC, Co-Founder of Living Wholehearted
Author of InCourage: Rooted In Grace, www.incouragebook.com

*We are hosting a Courageous Girls Leader’s Training on June 7th. Whether you are a seasoned CG leader or want to start a new group of your own, this half-day workshop will provide you with practical leadership skills to lead your group well. The day will also offer you personal time with founder and author, Terra Mattson, as you gain collective wisdom form other CG leaders and personal refreshment as we gather on five acres of old growth woods at the Living Wholehearted Lodge & Retreat in Sherwood, OR. This personalized workshop has limited space, so register early. Cost is $45 and includes retreat training, materials, lunch and coffee/tea/water. Food allergies are accommodated. Register at http://livingwholehearted.com/events/workshops.

Building Trust in a Guarded World

Building Trust in a Guarded World

It always helps to have people we love (and trust) beside us when we have to do difficult things in life.

– Mr. Rodgers

Life is so much better with a few trusted friends by our sides. In fact, a Harvard study found in 2016, after 80 years of researching health, that there is no greater health benefit than having a community of people who know you, love you, and will stand with you throughout life. It’s even more beneficial than eating your veggies or working out several times a week! Eating chocolate cake with a trusted friend is actually better than running a 10k alone. (Okay, the study did not prove that, but it seems like a logical leap.) As you set goals for the year, consider focussing on moving deeper into community and developing greater trust with those who cross your path. In order to heighten your health in 2019, begin the journey of building ‘roots of trust.’

Trust.

Now, this is a loaded word. It gets thrown around with little consideration of its power, impact, and the ripple effect it produces. Many of us think we trust others easily, sometimes even too easily. Others of us are fully aware of the walls we keep highly fortified so that no one, and I mean no one, will ever hurt us again. Here are a few principles I have learned over the years about trust — these principles have been gleaned from many wise leaders, but also from my clients who trust me with their hurts and from my own personal experiences along the way.

When I started my first Courageous Girls group in 2012, I had just experienced one of the biggest betrayals of my life. At that point, I thought I was done giving my heart away to girlfriends. I had shared my heart deeply with another to find it broken, betrayed, used and lied to without any attempts to repair. Do you have a story from your life that has caused you to guard your heart and vow, “I will never let that happen again?”

My broken heart longed to help my own daughters develop healthy relationships and navigate the sometimes shark-infested waters of female friendship. Yet, I knew that my girls could not do this without me modeling the way. My words would never match my actions if I did not allow myself to trust others again. But what would this look like in my life? How would I heal the pain that still lingered enough to open my heart back up again? I know far too many who have been violated, betrayed, judged, rejected, abandoned, used, and abused. This type of experience does not discriminate. No matter how much a person gives or how hard they try, the wounds from others may never be fully known until carnage appears.

If this has been a part of your life story, my heart aches with you. When this happens, trusting others feels like trying to hug a grizzly bear. Here, big grizzly bear…please don’t eat me! The thought of trusting again can sound stupid and naive. And yet, the truth is that not everyone is out to hurt you. Only some are untrustworthy, but not all. Learning to trust and also to be trustworthy is a part of being courageous and living whole-hearted. Let’s explore more.

Trust is only built over time and consistency.

Often times we naively believe that trust is a given. Innocent until proven guilty, right? Herein lies a problem: Predators thrive on using implied or quickly-granted trust as a means to do harm. Think about anyone in a leadership position who has taken advantage of others easily because of the inherent trust assumed with their role. Others incorrectly think that broken trust can be easily repaired with a flippant, “I’m sorry,” after promises are broken and inconsistent patterns emerge.

Perhaps you are like many people who say they trust others but have never fully let anyone see you. Do you really let anyone in on your darkest days? Would you know who to confide in when you are at your weakest? Studies show that it takes about two years before people start to really know one another. At that point, an individual is equipped with enough information to make a better judgment about who they are risking their personhood with. This is why time is such a crucial factor for all relationships. This is also part of the wisdom connected with showing up once a month for two to twelve years for Courageous Girls groups. Though it is so different than most of us experience in life, showing up is a vital ingredient in trusted relationships (visit mycourageousgirls.com for more). Faithfulness is the fruit that is produced through consistency. It demonstrates commitment, care, and integrity.

Showing up for a friend’s birthday (even when a competing invitation arrives the day before), remembering a prayer request, meeting weekly for coffee, making it a priority to sit in the hard places with a neighbor — all of these illustrate faithfulness that builds trust. Laughing together, sharing life experiences, and meeting goals together are wonderful parts of relationships both at work and at home, but nothing compares to the slow drip of consistent, long-term, faithful people who show up again and again and again. After the seven years with the same moms and daughters in our Courageous Girls group, we have established trust and continue to build upon it. This kind of trust reminds us that we are not alone in this world. When storms come, as they always do, we have others to remind us who we are and who God is in the midst of the chaos. We cannot force trust to grow faster than it naturally does. It must be built one moment at a time, over time.

There is always a measure of risk in trusting another with ourselves.

Living Wholehearted and Courageous Girls are organizations full of brave souls who aim to be unafraid — unafraid of the risk we feel sometimes when trusting God; unafraid of trusting others, and unafraid of trusting ourselves. The practice is scary and the stakes are high. However, the reward is what we all are longing for — to be known, to be loved, and to be significant. Considering all the relationships you have, which ones are you willing to begin investing in a little more this year? Who in your life has proven to be consistently present and solid, perhaps even more than your own actions warrant? Consider pursuing a deeper level of trust with a few key individuals. Share a little piece of your childhood journey, perhaps the fears you have, or what you hope for in your friendship at a truthful and vulnerable level. You will likely feel some hesitancy as you take this step of risk, but don’t pull your foot back from the progress that can come from opening yourself up to the people who are earning your trust.

Trust is built on the other side of healthy conflict resolution.

Some of us thrive on conflict and drama, even at the cost of never finding resolution. Others thrive as peace-keepers, avoiding making waves by pleasing others, even at the expense of telling the truth. Both types of entanglements result in people missing out on what God intended for the human heart: resolution after conflict. Conflict is a necessary ingredient in the process of being known and building intimacy. Without it, relationships remain shallow, and one will never know if the other can be trusted in a storm. The very essence of the Christian faith is rooted in a narrative that trumps after conflict. It’s what happens after the conflict that helps us build trust in one another. Hang around someone long enough, and conflict is bound to happen. Deciding to be a trustworthy person means you can humbly say, “Let’s talk about it. How have I impacted you?” After listening well, maybe you can also share how they have impacted you, too. The cherry on top is when both parties can own something they did to contribute to the conflict, ask for forgiveness, and come up with a plan for how to do things differently the next time. Doing this can advance your relationship with people who desire to grow in trust and intimacy.
Trust is rare and fragile. It takes years to build (and only moments to shatter).

Shrinking the gap between who we say we are and how we live requires awareness and regular feedback from those around us. Being able to trust a person does not require perfection, but it is rare and it is also fragile. Trust at a basic level requires integrity, practiced with regularity. Integrity is the willingness to be honest and truthful with another and to also do the necessary work to repair where we have done wrong. It may sound difficult but that’s because it is, especially in the world we live in that has become accustomed to accepting partial-truths as the “norm.” Integrity means we speak the truth even when it seems “unimportant” or “not required.” It looks like telling your friend that you really can’t afford to buy her a birthday present this year rather than skipping her party at the last minute out of embarrassment. Trust grows when we insist (for ourselves) that our words and actions imbue care and precision. This is not easy, but settling for an “okay” grade on this aspect of our personal affairs is harder in the end.

I recall former CEO of World Vision, Rich Stearns, sharing how he spent six months on a “forgiveness tour.” Basically, he went to anyone impacted by a poor decision he had made, and, after coming face to face with the ripple effects of his decision, he owned his choices and took the time to make sure each person felt heard and a sense of resolution. Now that builds trust!

While a forgiveness tour may not be realistic for everyone, we can certainly take steps toward resolving broken trust that we have a part in. This might look like removing a mask of pride, ignorance, indifference or fear to step closer to another who provokes us to keep that mask on. When we stop “pretending” that everything is okay and allow others to see our frailty and weaknesses, we invite them to walk a bit closer with us in our journey. When we are honest with ourselves and others, we move closer toward being a person who others will trust with their true selves as well. Let me be clear: Not everyone is a person worth trusting at this level. This kind of trust and vulnerability is built over time and often times won’t occur with more than a handful of people in a lifetime.

Consider if you typically act like a trusted person—Are you someone who moves toward others rather than away in the midst of conflict? Do you receive feedback when others need to offer it? Do you speak the truth about your needs, emotions, and hopes, rather than appeasing others by acting as if you have no needs of your own?

Consider someone you want to build (or re-build) trust with this year and begin. Work on developing these characteristics steadily, one day at a time, asking God to help you every step of the way. If you stumble, don’t give up!

Choose to try vulnerability again. I did, and I can truly say that it has propelled my life in so many beautiful, meaningful ways over the last few years, in all my leadership roles and in my life as a mom and wife. In a heavily guarded world, it may feel easier and safer to stay closed off and rely only on yourself; know that God has more planned for you and for your heart.

A person with one or two trusted friends is truly rich. Trust is not an allusive mystical idea. It is a practical and fundamental part of any healthy relationship, producing the heart of what we all long for at the end of the day: to be known, to be loved, to be significant. This is courage.

For more on how to build trust with God and others, see InCourage: Raising Daughters Rooted in Grace by Terra A. Mattson or, Trust for Today, by Trueface Ministries.

Be Loved, Love Well