As parents or teachers we can get too focused on PREVENTING digital mistakes that can ruin friendships and reputations. We need to offer mentorship to our kids on how to repair things (when possible). We can model this in our own social media lives.
In my student workshops, I ask kids to brainstorm about how to correct such a mistake. A common problem is an “overshare,” where they have shared something too personal about themselves. Another is when your child shares a friend’s good news—or even a secret.
They know that they can’t put the overshare or secret “back in the box,” but kids’ instincts are to try to limit the damage. Quickly. In these workshops, they suggest taking down the offending post, deleting the picture, and apologizing, or at least letting people know that it was a mistake.
But how can they make it right? In many settings, from youth groups to religious schools to public schools student propose solutions that are concerning or ill-advised. For example, many kids will try to “spread some lies” to cover up when they’ve shared someone’s secret and that person is upset with them. Another bad idea: “I’ll let them get revenge.For example: I’ll let my friend spread a rumor about me. As a parent and educator, I find myself shaking my head! But, when embroiled in a social error, kids feel an urgency to take further steps to fix it “for good,” quickly.
These problem-solving techniques came from 5th and 6th graders who are just learning how to negotiate complicated social relationships. Many of these kids are just getting their first communication device, which adds another layer of complexity to the equation. It is important to look at where these kids are developmentally when we consider getting them a smartphone.
We have to help kids understand that rumors, lies, and revenge strategies just exacerbate the situation. Kids are focused on the immediate issue, and often have trouble seeing the larger picture. Sometimes when the parameters of trust in a relationship change, it takes time to fix—and your child can actually make it worse by trying to fix it in one gesture.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP?
Adults can model the concept of repair for children. The best way is to offer a personal story of a communication gone wrong and how you solved it. For example, this one came from a parent at one of my workshops:
“I thought everyone knew Aunt Jodie was expecting a baby and so I said something about it on Facebook. She had every right to be mad at me—it wasn’t my news to share. I should have checked with her about how public her news was before I assumed. I called her to apologize — I feel really bad about it, but we had a good conversation and I certainly won’t do something like that ever again.”
We all make mistakes. Kids need to see that relationships are complex, even for adults. It’s important for them to see how to manage a mistake—with honesty, empathy, and patience.
Patience is the toughest thing to teach to our digital natives. Speed of communication is a virtue in today’s world, but it heightens the sense of urgency. Kids feel like they have to resolve things quickly, which we can understand. No one wants to feels the stress of a relationship that’s struggling. But repair is not always fast. It can take time. Teach your kids that it’s OK to take time and gain perspective.
This is an opportunity to teach them good life skills in general. Owning up to your missteps, apologizing earnestly, and returning to “being a good friend” is the best way to move past any issue. And of course, learning how to avoid such a misstep in the future.
Your own experiences with navigating relationships can be so helpful to your child. Remember that you have wisdom…and try not to panic when things go wrong in your child’s digital world. Some challenges are inevitable and learning to deal with them is part of growing up in the digital age.
Kids need to see that relationships are complex, even for adults. It’s important for them to see how to manage a mistake—with honesty, empathy, and patience.
When you put all these together, it’s easy to see why this is such a source of stress for families. Do you wish there was a course on this? After years of research and talking with families, I’ve created: Phonewise Boot Camp for parents to help parents get ready for this milestone. The course is an online class self-paced class for families who are getting their child a phone this year, or are in the first year with a phone and want to decrease conflicts and improve family communication about the phone.
This course will cover:
- Assessing your family’s current digital situation
- Planning and organizing your physical space at home to maximize positive outcomes
- What social skills kids need to be successful with their phones and more.
- Planning for boundaries around when your child will have access to the device
Image by Kelly Hogaboom.