As told by Laurie Wolk
Social media has opened a new set of problems for today’s parents. Children are no longer learning key life skills and their self-worth is often wrapped in their digital presence. It is up to parents to combat this influence in their children’s lives to raise strong, productive, confident members of society.
“Children today often measure their value in ‘likes,’” says parenting expert Laurie Wolk. “It’s important that parents understand the digital world our kids are living in and raise them with the tools they will need to be part of our physical reality.”
Wolk gives parents these five tips on raising children with self-esteem in a digital world:
Insist They Spend At Least Half of Their Non-School Hours IRL (in real life).
Wolk emphasizes that confidence comes from experiences in the 3D world. Parents should enforce rules that set guidelines for participating in activities and dealing with personal conflict in the real world.
“When children experience conflict with a friend, parents should insist that they have difficult conversations in person,” advises Wolk. “It’s awkward and hard, but will teach them to embrace and overcome their trepidation in life. Kids are losing these important communication skills and the only way to get better at them is to practice.”
The same premise applies to daily activities and family outings. For example, if going on a family hike, allow them to spend part of their time taking Snapchat and Instagram selfies, but make a point of having phones away for at least half the walk to enjoy quality family time. This IRL feedback teaches that social esteem does not need to be solely based on the public reaction to social media outlets or their feelings about online likeability. Social worth should be based on offline factors, particularly relationships, both internal and external, as well as real relationships with ourselves and others.
Wolk explains that “the development of a strong sense of self and personal identity can help our children withstand the pressures of social media and all its pitfalls by giving them real world confidence. Let’s be honest, if we allow our children to rely on their Instagram feeds, social media ‘like’ counts, and online comparisons to people we barely know to make them feel confident, they’re in big trouble.”
Role Model the Behavior You Want to See in Them.
Examine your own Facebook feed: are you showcasing your highlight reel? Parents should role model behavior they want their girls to develop.
“They are watching far more than they are listening,” says Wolk. “They’re teenagers after all. Look to role models and be a role model. Positive role models have an enormous effect on kids. Parents can start by examining what kind of message their own social media and IRL (in real life) actions are sending. Try following positive celebrities, and suggesting your daughters do the same; also look to cultivate both online and in real life relationships with women your daughter can look up to.”
Help Your Children Avoid Comparisons.
Children should be taught a healthy amount of skepticism, especially online. Wolk recommends parents teach early that just because someone implies something, doesn’t mean it’s reality. Knowing that social media is a curated snapshot of someone else’s life at a peak moment should help ease those negative feelings. “Parents should also role model increasing the self esteem of others with likes and positive comments thereby increase our Internet karma by introducing positivity, inspiration and authentic pieces of ourselves into social media.”
Create a Family Media Agreement Early.
“I always suggest having a digital media agreement in place early,” says Wolk. “I’m talking elementary school, even before they get their own phones, as it then just becomes part of the family values and ingrained in how the family operates.”
Wolk has found that with this approach, once kids get their own phone or laptop, they will have an intrinsic understanding of the rules surrounding digital media usage, good digital citizenship, and the truth behind all those “picture perfect” posts they see. Make sure the agreement outlines what is expected and appropriate phone use. For example, how much screen time they’re allowed and when it’s expected that phones are put away (such as family meal time), what content is ok to post online, and the level of access parents will have to check accounts.
Don’t Fear Mistakes.
The more comfortable your kids are with making mistakes and develop resilience skills to bounce back from minor (or big) hurts the stronger their social (and self) esteem grows.
“Their feelings are going to get hurt online and offline,” states Wolk. “With these guidelines in place, and their parents’ encouragement, they will learn that that it’s okay to make mistakes or feel hurt. Parents need to take care not to rush through feelings of jealousy, sadness, or hurt.”
Rather, Wolk suggests seeing it as an opportunity to acknowledge their feelings by not trying to fix the problem, but letting them know you understand. This will make kids feel confident that they can handle their feelings, and do not need to be afraid of them. The ability to confront their emotions can lead girls and boys to be brave, try new things, raise their hands and speak up.
Laurie Wolk has always enjoyed empowering others, leading her to become an author, educator and coach. A “go to” girl since childhood, and a cheerleader at heart, she loves to help people become their best selves. Her passion is helping parents and young girls learn how to communicate and connect with themselves, each other and the outside world.