Social media. Just the mere mention of it can elicit a collective groan from all within earshot. It’s the thing almost everyone hates to love, yet the thing in which almost everyone loves to partake. From pictures of our daily meals to throwbacks of our most embarrassing photos, it’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole when perusing your newsfeed or dreamily reliving some of your most favorite memories. Even as adults, it’s difficult to draw the line; I myself must admit that I am guilty of experiencing FOMO (or, anxiety and apprehension caused by the “Fear of Missing Out” for those of you who don’t know) when I see others having what I perceive to be fun in their online posts. Yet, because I am an adult, I also have the knowhow to realize when it’s time to put myself on hiatus and take a break. But are kids capable of this same self-awareness and understanding? Through the many ages and stages of adolescence, children and teens vacillate from adult-like independence to awkward self-consciousness, from curiosity about the vast world around them to introvertly locking themselves away in their rooms, from enthusiasm over family dinner to only seeking the approval of their peers. So how can we, as the adults in their lives, help kids strike a healthy balance? Enter Rosalind Wiseman.
Rosalind, a best-selling author and renowned parenting educator, visited the Dawson community this past November as part of our Parent University series. She is the co-founder of Cultures of Dignity, an organization that works with communities - youths, teachers, policymakers, and business and political leaders - to protect children’s and teens’ physical and emotional wellbeing in conjunction with social media use, encouraging them to find strength, courage, and resilience.
“We need to listen to young people and put it back on us (the parents) to find things that work,” Rosalind explains. “We live in different worlds. We know this, but we need to remember what it felt like to be a kid. We need to have a moment of ‘I’m glad you’re in my life’, even if you’re not getting along with your child. We need to always be in the process of learning and doing better. We have to mindfully interact and show up. This will help us connect with them.”
To be fair, social media has many positive attributes, such as allowing users to feel a sense of connectedness or community; providing an outlet for self-expression, talent, and creativity; honing future job skills; and increasing social awareness for events of which one may otherwise have no knowledge. And during her presentation, Rosalind provided our community with research-based skills to use when talking to kids about social media’s less-than-desirable effects.
How to Talk About Conflict
“Conflict is inevitable,” explains Rosalind, “but when parents step in to fix all of the problems, a child will lose their self-agency and control and then be left to deal with the fallout of what the parent has done.” This, in turn, makes children reluctant to open up to their parents or another trusted authority figure to ask for help when it’s really needed. And it’s important to keep the channel of communication free-flowing since as kids age, their problems only become more complicated.
“The unwritten social rules are constantly shifting,” says Rosalind of the online world. Challenges, therefore, surround how children and teens reflect upon their identity development and their understanding of this dynamic social world.
So what are some of the more important skills to apply when talking to your children about the unintended consequences of social media?
Same as conflict, mistakes are inevitable, and it’s important that parents don’t disproportionately respond when hearing about any trouble your child may be facing.
It’s important to discuss how your child’s actions go against your family’s values and help them through the pain and hardship so they learn from the experience.
Encourage them to find their own words to take responsibility, make amends, and adjust their actions moving forward in accordance with their amends. Ownership of the situation is key.
Don’t withdraw. As parents, we must always make our kids feel safe so they share their thoughts and feelings with us. Otherwise, they will find someone - who most likely won’t be as positive of an influence - to support them.
The starting point should always be, “Treat oneself with dignity, treat others with dignity, and treat your community with dignity,” says Rosalind of her approach. Further, practice what you preach. For example, how much are you on social media? And why? What are you posting? And are you putting unachievable expectations on your child through your own social media use?
A Strong, Supportive Community
One last extremely important takeaway that really resonated during Rosalind’s presentation was that the support network between parents, as the very fabric of the School, needs to be strong. Part of being a kid is making bad choices and learning from them; meaning, no labeling and no gossiping. Instead, reach out to the family that is struggling and ask how you can help. You would want the same if it were your child who was experiencing a difficult learning opportunity.
At the end of the day, we all really just want our children to be happy. Rosalind and Cultures of Dignity define happiness, in part, as discovering meaning beyond oneself, participating in satisfying work, and uncovering a place where one can process and find peace. So how can we get kids out from behind their screens to embrace true enjoyment over the important things and people found only in the real world? To put it in terms they will understand, send a text to put down the phone because...YOLO.
Additional Viewing and Listening If you were unable to attend Rosalind Wiseman’s Parent University presentation, we encourage you to watch the video and listen to the podcast episode she recorded afterward, Episode 15: Rosalind Wiseman on Happiness, Friendship & Dignity, at adsrm.org/podcast.
The Alexander Dawson School at Rainbow Mountain, an independent school located on 33-acres in the community of Summerlin, is Nevada’s first Stanford University Challenge Success partner school for students in early childhood through grade eight. Utilizing the unique Challenge Success framework, Dawson uses research-based strategies and programs that emphasize student academics, wellbeing, and a healthy school-life balance to create more engaged, motivated, and resilient learners and leaders. At Dawson, students achieve their individual potential while savoring life and meeting the challenges of the world.