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Everyone Makes Mistakes: Teaching Kids How to Fix Things When Texting Goes Awry

Instagram, texting, kids and cellphones, tweens and smartphones, friendshipAs 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.

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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

Sign Me Up!

 

Image by Kelly Hogaboom.

Spy vs. Spyware: Should You Monitor Your Kids’ Digital Communication?

To Spy or Not to Spy: New Parenting Issues in the Digital World

Many parents ask me—should I spy on my kids or is that an invasion of privacy? Apps like “My Mobile Watch Dog” and “TeenSafe” give parents the power to read all their kids’ texts. But then what? I tell parents: Mentoring is more powerful than monitoring.

Spy vs. Spyware: Should You Monitor Your Kids’ Digital Communication?I always start by examining their goals. What is your objective? What are you looking for? What do you hope to see or NOT to see? What would be a yellow flag to you? What about a red flag?

It helps to understand your own goals before you take action. Has there been an incident that spurred a spying strategy? Or is it a general fear about what your child could be doing—because you don’t know about it?

In addition to looking at your goals, set a plan before you start. Think about what your response will be if or when you encounter:

  • Bad (or inappropriate) language;
  • Negative talk about other kids;
  • Negative talk about adults or teachers;
  • Negative talk about you or other parents.
  • Inappropriate pictures.

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)

This is an online class for families launching a new phone user. This could be useful anytime in the first year or so with a phone.  How can you decrease conflicts and improve family communication, and clarify expectations about the phone and how your child will use it.

This course will cover:

  • Assessing your family’s current digital situation
  • Planning and organizing your physical space at home to maximize positive outcomes
  • Common digital citizenship challenges for new smartphone users
  • 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

 

Sign Me Up!

 

Mentoring vs. Monitoring: Be honest with yourself about your goals

The new digital world that our kids inhabit leaves parents feeling like they have less and less control to do the work of parenting. A natural inclination is to take some control back. Impose rules on device use, or monitor kids’ activities. After all, how can we have influence over them if we feel like they are isolated from us?

While this can be effective (and maybe even necessary), let me make a brief case for mentoring rather than monitoring.

  • First of all, if you are covert about your spying, you could lose the opportunity for mentoring. You may feel that it’s your right as a parent, but your child will see it as a breach of trust. When this happens, your child may “close off” or feel that she has to be sneaky now. In other words, you could actually do more damage by spying, and have the opposite effect of what you intend.
  • Plus, your kids may already be on to you. They are clever, and I’ve seen a few kids go to great lengths to evade covert spying. For instance, keeping and managing two Instagram accounts—a “family-friendly” one and another “real” account, using a fake/code name. You can usually tell which one is real by their engagements with other kids, etc.
  • Speaking of other kids, spying on your child’s communication means that you are reading other kids’ communications, too. There are a lot of issues around that, from invasion of privacy to assumed responsibility. Do you tell the other parent up front, or wait until an issue arises? What if another parent is reading your child’s communications to their kid? Would you want them to call you about your child’s communication? To my point about goals, it really helps think these things through in advance.
  • You may never see your kids’ friends the same way if you are reading their texts. Or your own. Are you ready?

What if you decide to spy?

If you do spy—and there are some situations, including new stages of experience (i.e. first time users) that may warrant this—then here are a few tips:

  • Be honest. Tell your kids up front that you are going to be watching, and why you feel you need to do this. Demonstrate to them how your relationship will be better and more open because of this. After all, you are being honest with them—not covert.
  • Show how it will help. Tell your kids that you are going to help them understand how to communicate better. Socializing via text and social media is complicated, and you’ll help them navigate it. Assure them that they won’t lose their own style of communicating.
  • Set a duration. Be clear that if they meet your expectations in how to communicate, that you will feel the need to check less frequently or you will stop completely unless you sense there is serious trouble and your child isn’t telling you.
  • Create an alternative. Instead of spying, are you open to having them give you a tour of their social media accounts once a month?
  • Raise a flag. Have your child point out to you when they get a message that’s not appropriate. Prompt them, if necessary. If they learn to do this on their own, not only can you use the opportunity to teach them, but you’ll also be building up your trust in your child as well.

What if you see something you don’t like?

Suppose you see something you don’t like. An inappropriate picture exchanged, mean or hurtful words about a classmate, or worse—an accusation or threat. What do you do?

  • First, try not to over-react. You could be missing a lot of context by seeing this one infraction. I’m not saying not to take it seriously—just make sure you remain calm and think it through before reacting. You have to tread very carefully, and it helps to have a strategy.
  • Ask, don’t accuse. You need more context to assess the situation and make good decisions. Ask some open-ended questions about what’s going on, rather than confronting your child directly.
  • Assess and take action. How serious is the situation, and how urgent is it? For instance, if you have reason to believe your child is being bullied, in an abusive relationship, or getting threatening texts from a peer (or an adult), you need to act immediately. But if we are talking about the everyday social dramas of elementary, middle, and even high school, it is more helpful to be supportive and not overbearing.
  • Teach “repair.” It’s ideal if the child can fix the issue on his/her own, and your mentoring can really help here. Teach your child that if a post or text message upsets them, it is better to calm down and speak to the person directly (if possible), or to seek help from a parent or other adult if the situation is too serious to handle on their own.

Building a strong, honest, and open relationship with your child is the best defense against the “digital issues” your family faces day to day. Protection apps like “Phone Sheriff” (and hundreds of other similar apps) are simply no match for your experience, and won’t help your child develop good judgment in communicating. Issues are an opportunity for learning—for you and your child!

 

PS: Getting Your Child a Phone? Are you ready? Are they ready? Join my Phonewise Boot Camp to get ready to support them through this important transition. Would you like informative posts about raising kids in the digital in your inbox by the author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive and Survive in Their Digital WorldSign up here.

Photo credit: “Looking For Clues” by Casey Fleser is licensed under CC BY 2.0.