Note: Sarah Sparks Brooks (Harding Academy class of 2005) writes a blog called Life as of Late. This week she wrote about some observations related to social media and teens. I thought it was worth sharing.
I've picked up on a few recurring trends when talking with parents (and youth workers and teachers) of pre-teens/teens about social media recently...
I hear a lot of fear and uncertainty. I see a lot of deer-in-the-headlight, overwhelmed looks. And I understand. The world wide interwebs are big and scary and kidnappy.
But if there's one thing I think (or rather, hope) I might help you with, it is understanding your kids' mindsets. They're speaking a language you're trying to understand and that's scary. Or at the very least annoying.
This is no cause for mass hysteria. No panic necessary.
The trends and sites and apps change entirely too fast to keep up with every single one, and that's ok! It's not just about the apps. It's about bridging the gap between viewpoints. Understanding where the other person is coming from. Or at least it's a starting point.
So. Pretend you and I are sitting across the table from each other with delicious lattes in our hands, and let's talk about a few specific differences I hear:
1. Online vs. Offline Communication
A big concern I hear over and over is the amount of time kids spend with their noses stuck in their phones.
"I wish they would just put that contraption down and have a real conversation."
"They are always on their phones. How are they supposed to learn basic social etiquette?!"
While those frustrations are valid, it's important to understand that teenagers view online communication the same as in-person communication.
You see a huge difference between a face-to-face coffee date and a Facebook wall post, but they don't. They see a text, a tweet, a phone call, FaceTime, an Instagram comment, or a Kik conversation the same as an in-person chat.
It may seem foreign to you (because it is), but it's their reality...and will be from here on out. You clearly distinguish between "online" and "offline". They see it all as communication. Simple as that.
The conversation might really be more about time management than communication styles.
2. App-Specific Fears
SnapChat and Ask.fm don't have a whole lot of fans over the age of 20, and rightly so. There have been awful news reports about cyber-bullying, suicides, kidnapping, etc. because of these sites. Scary stuff.
But we aren't panicking, remember?
While those apps in particular seem to be fool-proof in causing our teens' moral compasses to fail, they themselves are not the issue. The app doesn't bully. The app doesn't kidnap. The app doesn't sext.
My point is this: if they feel so inclined, your kids will send naked pictures with or without SnapChat. Your kids will be jerks with or without Ask.fm. Your kids will struggle with identity with or without Instagram.
While it's important to be aware of and have a healthy fear/concern for specific apps (and the temptations they bring about), it's much more important to remember that the negative things that happen on those platforms are separate, much deeper issues than the apps themselves.
The apps will come and go at lightning speed. But bullying, self-esteem, purity...these are underlying struggles that teenagers from every decade and every walk of life have faced. They just play out differently, and much more publicly, for today's teens.
It's a behavior that needs addressing, not an app.
3. Making Mistakes
Living a "public" social life (as most teens online today do) has major pros and cons.
Pro: They are forced to be who they say they are.
Show of hands - any parents out there ever sit through Sunday morning church in their younger years horribly hungover as a result of previous night's festivities? (Hey, just you and me and our lattes, remember? No need to get squirmy.)
Your kids don't have this luxury. They get wasted on Saturday night, they end up tagged in some post or picture somewhere. They don't get to be two different people.
I think this falls into the "pro" category because authenticity always beats a façade. Always. Even if it's messy. (Especially if it's messy.) You can address an honest mess. You can't address a hidden identity.
Con: They live a public social life.
When they mess up, they mess up big. They mess up in front of everyone. Their dirty laundry is permanently aired.
So. I know you want to freak out about that Ask.fm question that boy asked about your daughter's bra size. I know it makes you want to delete the account immediately and ban her from ever interacting with another human male again. And maybe you should do all of those things.
But I also know that you yourself got into sticky situations as a teen, your parents just didn't have a full access, front-row seat to it.
I did plenty of things as a teen I knew my parents would vehemently disapprove of, but I was a teenager DANGIT and I wanted to experience it for myself. More often than not, those decisions led to a quick realization of why my parents made the rules and boundaries they did. But I had to realize it. My parents set the foundation, I had to make the decision.
Teenagers are teenagers are teenagers. They do and say really stupid things. That's what teenagers do. Teens today make bad decisions they need to learn from, they just don't have the privacy to do so like you or I did.
You've set the foundation for them. Sometimes they have to learn from their mistakes without intervention, even though it's public.
And, hey, it's public for all of them. None of them know any differently. It seems crazy to you or I, but it's their norm. (Hence the inherent authenticity found in younger generations.)
So long story short...
As far as parenting decisions go, I'm not even a little bit qualified to give advice. Nor am I trying to. (In fact...if you saw just how heavily I rely on Google when parenting my own tiny human, you would call CPS immediately.)
But I think some of the communication barriers you and your kids hit simply come from having two completely different viewpoints. My hope is that conversations like this help build even the tiniest of all bridges.
By Tim Elmore
History is full of people who’ve gone first, especially during the last century. There is something about being first that tugs at the human spirit, and pushes it forward.
Did you know you have some “firsts” on your campus as well? Your high school or college students are among a generation who’s the first to experience a number of realities. In fact, because they’re initiating these realities, they may present a challenge to your parents and teachers. Adults are grappling with how to raise this population of kids who grew up on-line, with a screen in their hands. The pixels and format of those screens have re-wired their brains: they think differently, react differently, communicate differently, and process information differently than adults. Some call them “screenagers.” Consider the following “firsts” they represent.
This is the First Generation of Youth Who:
1. Doesn’t need adults to get information.
Consider how this difference changes the role of an adult. Because information is everywhere, we are no longer brokers of data. They don’t need us for information, but for interpretation. We must help them make sense of all they know. Our job isn’t to enable them to access data, but to process data and form good decisions.
2. Can broadcast their every thought or emotion to those who follow them.
You see this every week. Thanks to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, your kids can send messages to huge populations who matter. They are the new PR for your youth department or your school. Some posts actually get famous…good or bad. Most have not been equipped to harness the megaphone in their hands.
3. Has external stimuli at their fingertips 24/7.
Because a portable device is in their hand, they receive outside stimulation any time they’re bored. Many don’t think well on their own. This outside entertainment may have reduced their internal motivation. They’ve never had to motivate themselves. They depend on a screen to push them. We must equip them to find it within.
4. Is socially connected at all times, but often connects in isolation.
This is the most connected generation in history—but perhaps the one who’s experienced the least community. They’re rarely disconnected, but are lonely and often connect virtually, in isolation, on a screen. Their empathy, soft skills and emotional intelligence are lower because of it. They’ll need those skills for life.
5. Will learn more from a portable device than from a classroom.
This one is a game changer. The portable device they hold in their hand is now the compass that guides them, not their teachers. They’ll consume more data on this device than through any other means. It may be inaccurate or damaging, but it’s available and they are digesting it. They’ll need us to help them navigate this tool.
6. Adults have enabled to be narcissistic instead of valuing a team.
Adults have told them they’re special, gifted and smart. This affirmation was intended to build self-esteem. Sadly, instead of helping their self-esteem, as a whole, it’s produced a high level of narcissism. They’re into themselves not the whole. You may be needed to furnish them with bigger picture perspective.
7. Uses a phone instead of a wristwatch, camera, wall calendar or board game.
Students no longer manage their lives the way we did growing up. Their phone tells time, provides entertainment, takes pictures, gives directions, connects with friends and broadcasts their messages. Designed to make life simpler, this non-stop information center has made them the most stressed out generation to date.
8. Scores lower on global comparisons, but believe they’re “awesome.”
This may be the most notable “first.” American kids continue to score lower on standardized tests than their peers around the world. Despite this fact, the one category they keep scoring highest in is: self-confidence. They’ve been empowered to believe they’re awesome, but not equipped by adults to enter adulthood.
Despite the unintended consequences to this world of “firsts” I continue to believe in the potential of this emerging generation. I pray they truly will transform the world. They can be role models for younger kids—but they will require direction and equipping that earlier young adults may not have needed. They need conversations about how to navigate an overwhelming world of information, and they need help to see they are only part of a much bigger world than themselves. Are you ready to expand your definition of “teacher” or “leader”?
- See more at: http://growingleaders.com/blog/#sthash.VeCAnT6J.dpuf
Did you know that pictures you've e-mailed or uploaded from your smartphone could leak information that can threaten your safety or that of your children?
Visit this site to read much more on this NBC (Kansas City) investigation.
Melanie P. Semore
Head of Upper School