- When parents criticize, judge and condemn other people’s children and their parents for things that disturb the peace (depression and anxiety/sexting/drug use/crime/bullying), the signal sent to youth is that it is not safe to talk about anything happening in their life that displeases you.
- Ask any parent who has survived a child who died by suicide, and they will tell you that you cannot know what is happening in your child’s life, what they are thinking about or planning to do, unless they choose to tell you. Ultimately, children are in charge of themselves.
- Therefore the secret weapon to counter the negative impact of social media on your child is to embrace a parenting mindset of “fearless collaboration.”
A recent feature in The Herald.net expressed a mom’s anxiety about the threats youth face with social media use, including depression, suicide, bullying and drug use. This mom accepts that she cannot shield her son from the cyber assaults and is consoled by this thought: her son’s keen intelligence is her secret weapon and the poor life decisions of his peers will serve as examples for conversations about what not to do.
And while her message on the surface communicates building confidence in her child’s own ability to choose to not be influenced by the shame-inspiring experiences of others, I encourage parents to be careful in how they have these conversations about the snares that other people’s kids find themselves trapped. If you are condemning other people’s children for their painful experiences, the signal we send to our own children is that it is not safe to talk to you about anything that will displease you.
Think about it. The presumption is that your child could never get caught in a snare (gossip/bullying, drug use, sexting). And the reality is that no matter how intelligent, your child is also vulnerable to acting on wrong impulses online and offline. What they need to know from you is that you do have confidence in their ability to make good choices, and that if they do have a shame-inspiring experience, especially one they know will make you feel angry or sad, you will be there to help them get free and right themselves.
This is an important message, how you handle shame. Because you cannot really know what is going on in your child’s life unless they choose to tell you about it and shame-inspiring experiences kill this open communication.
I have learned that parents cannot take too much credit for anything the child does. There is a humility essential to accept this truth that ultimately children are in charge of themselves. They are indeed emerging executives and our influence does not give us control over their choices and their lives.
An executive mindset of fearless collaboration
Parenting youth as emerging executives requires open communication about what is happening in life. And this requires a different mindset than that of pre-internet generations which presumed parents had control over their child’s behavior and future.
When parents believe that their children have the same God-given powers of self-determination (memory, intellect and will) as themselves, it is possible to engage tech-savvy youth in open communication. This belief fosters a mindset of fearless collaboration that presumes every person can be expected to be responsible for their own thoughts and actions and learn how to know and do better the next time. Now that is how to build and strengthen trust in a relationship. From the parent’s perspective, it looks something like this:
- When something disturbs your peace, meet your child/teen where they are at emotionally and intellectually, no matter how elated, angry, or wrong.
- Speak truth with mercy about something they or their peers have done, have witnessed or are experiencing that inspires pain and shame (no judging or condemning the person or people involved).
- Show the way. Offer guidance on how to proceed without criticizing and lecturing.
- Let your child/teen choose which way to go. Give your child time and space to think about the wisdom you offer, and express confidence in your child’s ability to learn and grow from the experience.
In this relational model of authority (wherein parents are perceived as household executives and children as emerging executives), it is possible to convey confidence in your child’s own ability to learn and do better under all circumstances, including social media pressures. So to be clear, while I agree that children possess keen intelligence, a parent’s secret weapon to counter the negative social media influence is to embrace a mindset of fearless collaboration in order to impart wisdom.
About: We are a non-profit education center founded in Roseville, CA to strengthen the parent-child bond in a hyper-connected world. Our mission is to restore families with the mustard seed of faith that declares liberty already belongs to the soul because one God, the Creator of all humanity, grants every human being intelligence and free will to choose what to believe, and that is power that can never be taken, but is easily surrendered to the bully, the drug or the device. To that end, ten percent of all proceeds are donated to prison ministries. Your donations are greatly appreciated. (Donations are payable to Banana Moments Foundation).
Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and consultant on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber-powered world. She is a former technology executive trained in behavioral science at U.C. Berkeley, a mother of two grown sons, and an author of books for practical guidance on parenting, growing up and family life in the network culture. As a family and technology culture advisor, Joanna has appeared on 103.9FM The Fish, 710AM Keeping Faith in America, 1380AM The Answer, and Examiner.com.