Note From Keri Lyn ~ I just wanted to mention how thrilled I am to have Eileen guest posting this series on the blog! Eileen has been a dear friend for several years. She is an amazing mom and honestly THE very funnest person to visit Disneyland with. I love her passion for protecting our kids and families in social media and I am SO thrilled to have her sharing her expertise here weekly with all of us! Some of these topics are not the easiest, but they are definitely very timely and often eye-opening. I hope you will enjoy this series as much as I do!
Eileen has written over ten articles in this series and I hope that you are getting as much out of these articles as I have. So timely and such great reminders about keeping on top of this digitally social world that we live in! Make sure to read Eileen’s other posts: How to Talk to Your Kids About Social Media, Questions to Help Start Social Media Conversations with Your Kids and Eileen’s other Smart Parenting articles here.
Smart Parenting: Helping Teens Unplug From Technology
I love talking with teens and parents about technology and social media. Every conversation helps me learn from and teach others. One subject that comes up in every conversation with parents is how to help teens find a balance between the online world and the real world. Teens struggle with this (and adults, too!) and everyone wants answers.
So let’s dive into this topic and see what we learn in the conversation. I’ve got ideas and maybe a helpful suggestion –read on!
When I perform assemblies with 6-8th graders, the students don’t just sit passively in the audience and listen to me talk the whole time. I ask them to bring something to write with and make them work a little bit. I give them questions to answer in a group and we share and discuss the answers at the end of the assembly.
One of the questions I ask that gets intriguing answers looks something like this: ‘“Teens don’t talk to each other and have bad manners.” True or false? Offer as many reasons as you can to defend your answer.’
Students answer both “true” and “false” to this question. Some teens feel texting helps teens communicate; others feel like it keeps them from communicating face to face. One student opened up in their answer because they experienced a let-down:
- “True. People talk on the phone by texting, on snapchat, or on Instagram. People aren’t sharing their thoughts as humans. They are talking through electronics. I have totally opened up with someone on social media but when I saw the person in real life they didn’t talk to me at all. I tried to open up face to face and literally they didn’t talk to me.”
Wow. Oh my heart!
I knew this student felt strongly and was hurting about this. She spoke with me after the assembly to continue the conversation, “I just feel like my friends are scared to share what they’re feeling. We can say it in a phone but we don’t have the guts to say it to each other in person.”
My heart. Again!
The teen years are when we talk for hours and share and laugh and cry and feel angry and seek answers and look to friends for support because “parents just don’t get it!” right?
Or are these years not like that anymore? Here’s what my teens were like: hours spent talking on a phone (an actual phone where I heard someone else’s voice) and spent weekends hanging out at friend’s houses in bedrooms listening to music and laughing for hours about anything and nothing.
In eighth grade one of my best friends lost her mother to cancer. We communicated for countless hours on the phone during treatments to battle the cancer and more hours talking after the treatments failed and her mom passed away.
What would coping with this loss look like now?
Texts back and forth about feelings and thoughts? Would there be actual conversations face-to-face? We all know we need physical contact as humans, especially when we hurt and grieve. I remember just sitting next to my friend in her room as she cried. I remember crying at home with my mom because I didn’t feel like I knew how to help or say anything that could take the sadness away.
I remember the feelings. I don’t remember the actual conversations, but I remember the contact and closeness and open sharing. I remember lots of time listening and talking and sitting and being there.
Has this open-ness shrunk or closed for teens now?
As parents, what do we do?
One parent shared this idea with me during a Coffee Talk and I’ve seen this idea discussed online as well: Cell-free parties and cell-free zones.
You’ve heard of selfies (who hasn’t?!?) now hear about “cell-frees.” Cell-free, events, sleep-overs, and spaces where cell phones aren’t allowed.
Some teens want them, some freak out. No matter what way a child reacts to this idea, this creates an opportunity for discussion, and that’s a great thing when it comes to social media!
As I talked with the teen after the assembly, I suggested “cell-frees” to gauge if she would like the idea or not. She wanted it, “I would totally do that” but felt afraid her friends would think she was mean, weird, or rude.
Of course she felt that way!
We all want to fit in. It’s what humans do and especially what teens or tweens do. They want to fit in and belong. If no one else is talking, there’s no way I’ll stick my neck out and be the first one to do it!
So what can parents do to help?
Start small. Suggest the cell-free idea for a short amount of time before jumping into this zone for the length of an entire sleep over. And maybe suggest trying it with one trusted friend instead of a group. If this works, see if your teen feels comfortable with going bigger and spreading the net wider.
Suggest ideas for your teen to sleuth out that one friend that will REALLY listen and share. (We really only need a small number of friends like this –the ones who know EVERYTHING.) Help your child figure out who these friends are and how to open up about their feelings with these friends.
Explain to your kids about the bravery they show every day as they post on social media. Kids are sooooooo brave to do this! They post a photo and wait for anyone and everyone to say something about it! They expose themselves to the possibility of ridicule and disappointment every time they put something out on social media but feel scared to talk about in-real-life feelings. Help them to transfer their online bravery into their real world.
Go out on a limb –that’s where all the fruit is, right?
It may not happen immediately, but if they keep trying and sharing, hopefully they will find that person they connect with. Maybe bravery around this topic of sharing feelings can start to turn around.
I hope none of your kids feel the loss of a loved one or have to help a friend through this traumatic experience. What I do hope for your kids is the power to express their feelings so they can feel heard, understood, and accepted.
Keep being terrific, connected parents and I wish you luck in a cell-free world. Thank you, Keri Lyn, for the opportunity to share my thoughts on your site and with your terrific community.
Connect with Eileen
If you are looking to learn more about and to stay up to date on the latest social media happenings and trends, especially where kids are concerned, then I highly encourage you to follow Eileen in social media!