Lately, we’ve been hearing a lot about the effects of social media, which seem to range from making us jealous to making us suicidal. We’ve read about teens who see Instagram pictures of their happy and carefree friends, and then turn around and kill themselves because they don’t feel happy and carefree. We hear about adults sinking into depression because their lives don’t reflect the glamorous, world traveling, spouse-loving, Leave It To Beaver families they follow on Facebook. We remind ourselves and each other that pictures on social media are about people showing us what they want us to see, what they want us to believe about their lives, that Facebook truth isn’t real truth, that Instagram happiness isn’t true joy. But regardless of these reminders, we find ourselves believing wholeheartedly in the pictures we see before us.
If you think it’s bad for adults who have the advantage of years and experience behind them, imagine what it’s like for teens. It’s especially hard for this age group to recognize the difference between social media image and hard, cold reality. When you’re raised on ten seasons of Keeping up with the Kardashians, you come to believe that image is everything, that a good selfie can change your world, and that without money, you’re nothing.
That’s why you need to model the behavior you hope to see in your kids when it comes to what you post, how much time you spend online, and how much value you place on other people’s posts and photos. For instance, aside from a few rookie mistakes I made when I first discovered Facebook, I quickly discovered that my posts are forever and that I need to be mindful of what I put out there for the world to see. My kids know that there are topics I’ll never talk about on social media because I consider those issues to be polarizing and divisive, and the world doesn’t need any more of that. They also know that I won’t post personal family matters, intimate details about my life, inappropriate photos, or anything that would embarrass them. As a result, they’ve mostly followed my lead. So while they’re inundated with a culture that preaches superficiality and materialism, they’re learning that what’s really important is treating social media responsibly and monitoring the message they send to the world about themselves.
Be a thinker and a fact checker. A recent study conducted by Stanford University showed that most students are unable or unwilling to discern a factually accurate article from a biased or inaccurate one. Quite frankly, they just don’t want to take the time to find out if what they’re reading is true. But they don’t hesitate to share it on social media with just a quick click. This begs the question: Do you do the same thing? Do you share and forward articles, memes, and blogs that may or may not pass the litmus test for honesty? Kids are more likely to think twice about what they share if their parents do the same. Always coach your kids to check sources for validity and reliability before spreading what might otherwise be hurtful gossip and misinformation.
Teach your kids that in social media – just like in life – they should always take the high road. They should never attack another person from a keyboard. They should never post a photo they wouldn’t mind their grandparents seeing. They should use proper English and good language that wouldn’t insult their English teacher or their preacher. They should use social media as a way to connect with friends and send positivity into the world.
Always remind your kids that while online image doesn’t tell everything about a person, it still tells the world something. They should decide now what image they want to present and whether that image truly conveys who they are.
Rebecca Deurlein is the author of Teenagers 101: What a top teacher wishes you knew about helping your kid succeed, and CEO of the path to success company Teenager Success 101. She blogs and writes internationally, speaks to parents across the nation, and loves every minute of living in Sugar Land, TX. Find her on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Huffington Post, or through her own blog A Teacher’s Guide to Understanding Teenagers. All can be accessed at www.rebeccadeurlein.com.