Something children and young people have told us is that programs around bullying and respectful relationships do make a positive difference. They can recite from memory the actions to look out for and the ways to deal with or seek help when confronted with difficult and abusive situations. This doesn’t mean they don’t need more support – because knowing something and then actually doing it are different things – but there is something more pressing than that.
The challenge young people face…
Young people, especially as they get their first devices and connect with each other over networks (whether social, or even just school networks) say that it is the day-to-day online moments that they want to learn to manage more.
These aren’t all awful or terrible things; they are small things that can wear you down and cause you stress, anxiety and worry that creeps into your daily life. Think about your own life as a teenager, and the things that you were worried or obsessed about through magazines and TV and your friends and peers – then multiply that 100 times. That is what life is like for our children today.
Everything from celebrities posting perfect lives on Instagram to needing to respond to every streak on Snapchat, to being excluded from a chat, or called out for using a meme in a wrong way, being left unread, or ghosted or simply feeling overwhelmed by just how much information they have to deal with – is something at the front of young people’s minds. It can be overwhelming.
What can parents do?
As parents and significant adults in children’s lives, we need to be aware of this and we need to let them know we are aware of this. Our job is to foster values of respect, kindness and generosity in our young people and we do that by modelling it and by being respectful, kind and generous towards them. We shouldn’t mock or make fun of their world, it is so central to them, we should be curious about it and ask them questions like, “tell me about snapchat, I don’t get it” or “what is it that you like about online gaming?” There is real power in parents being honest that they don’t know and tapping in to their child as the expert. You may get one word answers, or not much at all, but if we keep asking, every now and then you will find that you get some insights and even deeper understanding.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, one parent told me how concerned they were that their teenage son was walking around with his wireless headphones on all day. This dad assumed he wasn’t doing his schoolwork. Rather than saying “take off those headphones” and trying to assert power and control over something he didn’t understand, the dad got curious and asked: “why do you have your headphones on all day?” His son told him about an audio social media platform called Discord that usually he used for online gaming. Now people in his class were using it to hang out together during the day when they were otherwise alone at their desks. Much of the time no-one spoke at all, but other times they’d have conversations, or someone would stream music down to everyone else so they could listen to the same tunes. The headphones weren’t isolating but were a way his son was managing isolation during remote learning.
Recognising and respecting the private lives of our children is important. Be curious and ask them about it – and be satisfied with what they tell us. If we do this it leads to better and more mature relationships with our children as they grow and means they are more likely to seek us out for help and we are more able to offer our own insights along the way