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How to Shape Your Kids' Character in the Social Media Age

Teen girls looking at a smartphone

Our kids are growing up in a generation that is saturated with social media. As if navigating the challenges of adolescence weren’t already hard enough, today’s teens and tweens have the ever-present barometer of likes, comments, online friends, cyberbullying, and screen addictions. If you’re wondering how to shape your kids’ character in the swirling winds of social media, you’re not alone. It can feel daunting to teach our children to create positive habits on social media and to steward the platform they’ve been given. In her book Liked, Kari Kampakis offers helpful tips we can teach our children—and her words are mighty powerful for adults, too.

Know Your Followers. People can stalk you without your knowledge, and they can easily create an identity that’s far from the truth. The internet is populated with trolls and predators. You’ve got to be careful about who you let follow you. If someone looks questionable, if they use an anonymous name, if they have no identifying pictures, block that person. If they bully you or anyone else online, block that person. This is a space where you don’t need to give someone a second chance. Know your followers, and block as needed. Avoid any apps that promote secrecy or allow people to be anonymous.

Ask Yourself Three Questions. Before you post, ask yourself: Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary? Even if it’s true, it may not be necessary to say out loud, especially in this public forum. Ask these questions before you post.

Be Very Sure. Countless social media train wrecks could have been prevented if people took the time to ask themselves, Am I sure I want to post this? Pause and think before you post pictures and thoughts online. Remember that once it’s out there, it can become impossible to wipe the slate clean. What you put online creates a digital record that is attached to your name for many years into the future. If you’re unsure, don’t post it.

If You Are Unhappy, Stay Off Social Media. We all have mood swings, and if you’re online when you’re in a bad mood, you’re far more likely to post something you’ll regret later. The internet isn’t a place to vent, rant, air dirty laundry, or publicly call people out on the ways they’ve wronged you. Before going online at all, be sure you’re in a good headspace. If scrolling through other people’s moments makes you feel left out, sad, or envious, stay offline or delete the app.

Learn from Mistakes – Yours and Other People’s. Every social media choice has consequences. Everything you share, even in a private text with someone you trust, can potentially go viral and become visible to thousands upon thousands of people. A split-second screenshot of your message or photo can set a wrecking ball in motion. Online mistakes lead to public humiliation. Before you share something with someone, picture it splashed across the front page of the newspaper or on tonight’s news. If you don’t want it there, don’t share it at all.

Pay Attention to the Conversations You Start. Do your posts trigger kind comments, or do they stir up controversy, anger, and gossip? Do your words bring out the best in people, or do they draw out their snarky, sarcastic side? Be careful what you draw out of people. Be mindful of what your conversations bring into the world. Look for ways to celebrate others, shine a spotlight on their accomplishments, and build up the people around you.

Recognize What Is – and What Isn’t – Your Story to Tell. Before you post something about someone else, be sure to check with that person to be sure he or she is okay with you sharing the news. Don’t steal someone’s thunder by announcing their news before they get the chance. In the same way, don’t share somebody’s bad news if they’re not ready to tell the world. Just because you know don’t mean you get to tell.

Limit your Selfies. Kampakis writes, “Your pictures tell your story. And if you’re always posting selfies—well, that tells people your life is all about you. Is that really the story you want to tell? Girls often use selfies to fish for compliments or be affirmed for their beauty, but I encourage you to aim higher. Keep selfies to a minimum, and make your posts more about your spirit and less about how your hair looks today.”

Detach from Your Numbers. In the grand scheme of things, social media numbers are meaningless. If your identity is wrapped up in your likes and followers, then social media has the power to mess with your emotions, your mind, and your confidence. Our world is obsessed with numbers, but you don’t have to be.

Settle Conflicts in Person. When you have an issue with a friend, try to talk in person or voice-to-voice over the phone. It’s tempting to text, but these arguments can escalate quickly and they are landmines for further misunderstandings. Show your own maturity by addressing the problem in person instead.

Be a Class Act. Use your voice to encourage and inspire the people who read your words. Drown out the negative voices out there by being a source of love, grace, and wisdom. Set a high standard for yourself, and invite your friends to do the same. Put your influence to good use.

 

Tricia Lott Williford is a remarried widow, a writer, teacher, reader, and thinker, and the author of three books. Her newest book is You Can Do This, a memoir on being a confident woman. Thousands of readers join her each morning for a cup of coffee as they sign online to read today's funny, poignant stories that capture the fleeting moments of life. She collects words, quotes, and bracelets, and she lives in Denver with her husband and two sons. You can get to know Tricia through her regular posts at tricialottwilliford.com.