Today’s generation of parents didn’t grow up scrolling through their Instagram feeds and capturing stories on SnapChat. They didn’t navigate their way through high school with a camera and GPS conveniently tucked in their purse or pocket. Our memories of this time are archived in printed photos, or notes scribbled on lined paper – all of which are likely stashed in a shoebox and tucked away in a closet somewhere, rather than posted publicly on the Internet for everyone to see.
“That social imprint doesn’t go away – it’s like a footprint you’ll always have,” says Stefanie Gorendar, Registered Psychotherapist and Certified Life Coach with York Region Healing Arts. And it’s up to those responsible for raising kids in the social media age to help their children understand the consequences of this matter.
“We’re kind of trailblazers, really, because we’re the first generation of parents that are dealing with this,” says Newmarket mom of three, Sandra Pearson (who’s name we’ve changed to protect her privacy). “I don’t think the social norms of social media and smartphones have been fully fleshed out. That’s part of the challenge.”
While online privacy is certainly a serious matter many parents are teaching their kids about, other challenges stem from issues with self-esteem, cyber bullying, social anxiety and even depression. Pearson and her family have spent much of the last year dealing with these types of encounters. Her kids are not strangers to the effects of cyber bullying and group texts gone awry. In fact, Pearson says the threat of someone capturing a screenshot of a text sent in the heat of the moment is enough to keep her children up at night.
“If you think about yourself growing up in high school or grade school, and you found yourself in a bad situation, you could go home, be with your family, and separate yourself physically,” says Pearson. “Whereas now, kids can’t do that. It follows them home; it follows them everywhere they go. I can’t imagine what that’s like for them.”
For this reason, dinner conversations are different for Pearson’s children than they were for her when she was growing up. “We’re actively talking not just about how their day was,” she says, “but asking pointed questions about what’s going on in their online world, too.”
It doesn’t stop at the dinner table, either. Pearson recently printed off an online contract outlining rules regarding social media and smartphone etiquette. “We went through it line-by-line, and had them initial it to say they understood [the rules].” This is one of many strategies Gorendar recommends for her clients.
The difficulty is, social media is a reactive space in which people are hidden behind the masks of their smartphone or computer screen. For this reason, people tend to post what’s on their mind without considering the consequences. Gorendar recommends teaching children to take a moment to pause and reflect before sending a text or posting a photo or comment online. She encourages parents to have their children ask themselves: ‘Would I say this to someone face-to-face?’ If the answer is no, then it’s best not to post it online either.
Social media is a filtered world that does not represent reality. Even adults have difficulty keeping this in perspective. It’s easy for kids and teenagers to get lost in the comparison trap, and suffer feelings of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) when scrolling through their newsfeeds. “One of the biggest things I’ve found to be successful is creating a stronger identity outside of the social media world,” says Gorendar. This means putting a greater focus on your child’s accomplishments at school, in sports and extracurricular activities, as well as through the relationships they have with family and friends in real life.
At the end of the day, today’s parents are doing their best – just like the generations of parents who came before them. “I am by no means a perfect parent, and I do not have this all figured out with social media,” says Pearson. By speaking openly about the matter and supporting one another, we can all work together to create a safe and supportive community—both online and off—to raise our children in.
by Charlotte Ottaway
York Region Healing Arts, Thornhill