Wait for it… The internet is not all bad. Yes, even for your teens. I know you are thinking, wait a minute, you have told us ALL of the bad things. All of the disturbing things our kids have access to. How it can effect the rest of their lives. How it can shift their thought processes. How it can create irrevocable changes. So let’s reframe this for a minute. What if I told you that, yes, it absolutely can do all of those things, but in a positive way.
I often feel like chicken little when I speak or write on this subject. Most days it does feel like the sky is falling, especially with so many kids floating freely through an unmonitored, unrestricted space. However, I think we can all agree there are beautiful stories to be found online. We see them everyday. But in the mess of it all, they sometimes get overlooked.
The headline of “a teen helps an elderly stranger” never seems as interesting as the news that the sky is falling. But, the reality is, we can help gently move our children into this positive space by teaching them what to look for.
I frequently ask kids during conferences if they are tired of hearing what they can NOT do online. I am always met with a resounding, YES! Then I ask if anyone ever takes the time to tell them what they CAN do. And I am told, NO. If our kids are going to be in this space, let’s show them the wonderful, beautiful, helpful side of online.
I often use the analogy that our kids are a lot like puppies. A puppy will chew on your furniture or chew on a bone. They are going to chew, but we can decide what they get to chew on. Also, if we are being honest, kids have the attention span of a puppy. So while the bone is fun for a while, they will inevitably want to go back to the furniture. This is where we come in with constant guidance and re-direction.
Case in point, my son and I were hanging on the couch the other day. We were watching his TikTok. Yes, he has TikTok. He turned 17this month. There is a whole conversation around this that I will address another time, but he does have it. And I do monitor it. That day he was looking at random junk. Nothing “bad” mind you. Just junk. So I said to him we should spend some time looking at the college she is interested in and do it through his social media accounts. He looked at me and said, “Huh?” I reminded him that he can look at schools or baseball programs through Instagram, TikTok and even Snap Chat. I was met with another, “Huh?
Now, I realize that this story may not be painting my parenting/social media education skills in the best light. Shouldn’t he already know these things. I have said them. A lot. Does he even LIVE with me? He is incredibly smart, but this is a perfect example of how kids have to be reminded of the positive, uplifting, wonderful things they CAN do with their social media. He knew he could do it…just all of the other junk gets in the way.
Today, and in the weeks to come, remind your kids what they CAN do. Show them how to access positive stories, how they can build their own business, how they can look up the college they have always wanted to attend, how they can use it to apply for their dream job.
If your children love to travel, show them all of the amazing places in the world they may visit. Show them apps that support their mental health either through meditation or simply moving their bodies.
Find groups or activists that have the same goals and teach them how to get involved and use their voices in a positive manner that will create lasting change. And pup-pies. Teach them how to look up videos of all the puppies doing silly things. Because it brings joy.
So let’s go back fora second to the beginning when we started this discussion and reframe those statements from a positive mindset. Did you know that social media can effect your children (positively)for the rest of their lives? It can (positively)shift their thought processes. It can create(positive) irrevocable change.
We become what we focus on. Let’s help our kids focus on what will support them most. Sometimes it’s just a matter of finding them a new bone to chew.
Kristi Bush serves as a national education consultant and social media safety advocate. She is a licensed social worker with greater than 15 years of clinical practice and health care experience. She attended Troy and Auburn University where she studied social work and counseling. Kristi travels nationally and has spoken with thousands of children, parents, professionals and organizations about the benefits and threats associated with social media. You may reach Kristi through her website at www.knbcommunications.com.