The social landscape of today looks very different than when we were kids, largely because of social media.
Our kids are native to the digital world, and no matter how tech savvy you may be, if you’ve ever stuck your finger in a hole and swung it around a circle to dial a phone number, you are an immigrant to this land. As immigrant parents of native children, we have to work overtime to learn the language and understand the culture.
On one hand, technology offers our kids great opportunities, but the dark underbelly of cyberspace is subtle and unpredictable, and we have to wisely guard its borders as our children’s allies and mentors – not as prison guards.
Some parents take the ostrich approach – head in the sand means there’s nothing to worry about. Other parents go militant, banning what they don’t understand. Still others do the helicopter, hovering anxiously, hoping to remove any threats before they do damage.
But in spite of its challenges, social media offers a unique opportunity that parents of earlier generations didn’t have. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and all of their digital counterparts are a window into our teens’ social world. They allow us to see them as their friends see them, and as they want their friends to see them. Social media can help us discern what our kids value and what their friends’ value, and it can open discussions about how they (and their friends) are presenting themselves to the world.
It all starts by knowing how they are using social media and then carefully talking to them, remembering our goal is to mentor, not to criticize or condemn them or their friends.
Find opportunities to discuss friendship. Right before bed can be a good time (kids are often curiously chatty at the end of the day). Ask them to think about what qualities they want in a friend.
Friends should inspire each other to be better. Ask your child how his friends do that and how he inspires his friends to be smarter, stronger or more creative. Friends should be good listeners and offer wise advice. For a teen, sometimes the best advice a friend can give is to talk to your parents.
Friends should also offer strength — two are better than one and a three-corded strand is not easily broken. Discuss options for helping a friend who is being picked on.
If you spot any red flags, either on social media or through conversation, confront it with the sandwich technique (praise – critique – praise). Open with something genuinely praiseworthy. Then move gently into your concern. Whenever possible, use questions to help kids discover truth for themselves. End with something positive.
Helping our kids find healthy friendships now will pay enormous dividends in their future.