This is the photo I shared with my family and friends on Monday, Oct 19 (on what would have been Myles’ 14th birthday).
Pretty beautiful, eh? I shared it with them to let them know that I was okay. What this picture doesn’t tell is how I was struggling with my feelings of loss, and how much solace I found in the beauty surrounding me. It doesn’t show that I felt alone… but fortunately for me, my friends and family knew Monday would be a tough day for me and they were quick to respond, helping me feel connected to them and loved. One of the biggest challenges for many of us, and one that our youth are often most vulnerable to, is how we might feel if no one acknowledges what we share.
While social media can be an incredibly useful tool, it can also be incredibly disruptive and harmful. Does the picture above mean everything is beautiful in my life, and by comparison, better? That is certainly not the intention, though we can sometimes find ourselves viewing posts others make and drawing comparisons to where we are and what we are doing. This may leave us feeling ‘less than’… and even worse if others are posting negative responses to what we have shared.
In this age of social distancing, the use of social media is omnipresent in our lives. It is incredibly important to help ourselves, and our kids, learn how to manage social media interactions in a way that can create positive and healthy outcomes instead of inducing anxiety and depression – which studies show, is far too frequently what kids feel as a result of their social media use. This week, we wanted to provide some tips to help protect our youth and mitigate the negative effects, such as:
Set an example. By encouraging our kids to put away their devices at consistent times each day, and doing so ourselves, we can create opportunities to connect and build positive experiences. Mealtimes come to mind as the perfect time to put the devices away.
Set limits. Establish a routine that reduces exposure to social media – for example, limit access to social media until after homework is completed, or for a period before bedtime. Create weekly family times, or off-screen times, to help acclimatize everyone in the household to spending time away from the screen. Try to keep the devices out of the bedroom at bedtime to discourage the temptation of ‘checking in’ with friends online.
Discuss it. Let your child know what your concerns are, and work together to come up with a plan that finds the balance to having access to social media while also teaching kids to ‘be present’ in the hear-and-now. Talk about social media awareness: how important it is to try to connect with friends off-screen; what they should be weary of; what is appropriate and inappropriate communication particularly as it pertains to another person’s reputation or may be perceived as bullying.
Monitor it. After discussing your concerns, let them know that you will be checking in on their social media activity for their safety, and then follow through. Ask your kids to share anything with you that might be causing them to feel upset, and when they do, try to listen and empathize before reacting.
Limiting access to devices and social media may be more difficult than ever now, but that makes doing so even more important.
For Children: Essential kids books for teaching media literacy and good digital citizenship.
For Youth: BE MORE – A social media & mental health short film.
For Caregivers: An article explaining why it’s never too early to teach your child good social media habits.
For Educators: Twelve lesson plans to help kids deal with ethical dilemmas in today’s digital world.