Is it rude not to answer a text, or “friend” someone on Facebook who asks? If everyone else plays risky Social Media games, does your teen feel like a loser if he or she doesn’t? When someone says, “TTYL” does she worry that maybe they’re bored with her, or they didn’t like what she texted instead of really needing to sign off?
Relationships, memories and friendships are not built through interactions on the web. NO! The bigger, busier your teen’s life, the less time they have to spend online because they are engaged in living.
Since tone of voice doesn’t come through in Social Media, what’s posted as a” joke” is usually heard as the truth. And, if you’re on the receiving end of the joke, it isn’t funny, can’t be “erased” and spreads quickly and far by the sheer geometry of the Internet.
Today there are guidelines, websites and books for teens to help keep themselves safe from online bullies, predators, jilted boyfriends and malicious girlfriend gossip. Kids know that if a question, text, picture, person, opportunity, or subject makes them uncomfortable, no response is the best response. When someone throws you the ball, youdo NOT have to catch it. As all the parents and experts say–what you post on the web is there forever, tied to you, and if it’s not something you’d like your grandma to read about you in the newspaper, then think twice before putting yourself out there.
If your teens (or you!) are posting, blogging, or otherwise working the net, they are actually doing it alone even if there may appear to be someone on the other end. If he’s constantly describing his life, then he’s not actually living it at that moment. Say, “DO something, instead!” If she is bored, shy, lonely, or bragging, then help her work on her people skills and self image. And if you, by example are meeting people through the web, be assured, none of us really know who might be on the other end. Teens feel important, connected, “in” from their web activity and profile. But, this is not the stuff of real substance that draws and holds people together.
If there is factual, necessary information to exchange or confirm, o.k. If not, then encourage your child to pick up the phone, make a plan, get exercise, or do something creative independently. These things take courage and initiative which, for some, are hard to come by. Our job as parents, therapists, educators is to help kids step appropriately and safely out of their childhood comfort zones.
Let’s help them learn to see and hear the people in their lives–their words, inflection, body language and heart. We are not acronyms, emoticons, posed pictures or the carefully crafted images, blogs or cute comments that folks post. LOL and 🙁 aren’t the same as laughing together or giving a friend a hug in hard times. There’s no way to truly know the real intention behind many posts. Words are so often given too much or too little importance by the reader or recipient.
Why are certain teens obsessed with Social Media? Is it laziness, or a desperate need to feel “heard” or get attention? Some teens believe they can escape from the hard work of individuating (becoming their adult selves) by stretching the truth in a post, pumping themselves up with lots of Facebook “friends” or reporting on their likes, whereabouts, and social life. For teens that are awkward, introverted, trying to spiff up their image, or just fit in, the web’s supposed anonymity can appear to offer a potentially “rejection free zone.”
Advertising oneself– making an “impression” are best left to companies, trying to build business, I believe. Adolescents in particular are starting the life long process of making honest, deep and worthwhile connection to others. When that happens, then social media becomes just another useful tool, one of many in a rich and varied life. Social Media is just one piece of a full life that is balanced physically, socially, emotionally and spiritually, but when it starts taking over, it’s time for parents to shut it off.