This election season has established that our nation is still divided and, sadly, those divisions continue to show its head through various social media platforms. Social media can be a fun, relaxing and therapeutic place to engage on, but as parents, we’re fully aware that the toxicity, fighting and dissonance could make it an unsafe place. What we can change, right now, is our own social conduct and start modeling behavior we’d expect from our kids. These 5 strategies will help keep us on track.
1. Confirm Your Intended Message Before Posting - A rule of thumb for participating on social media and one we should teach our kids is that whatever you decide to post or publish will stick with you for the rest of your life, so post wisely. There have been numerous people who’ve lost jobs and reputations over social media posts gone bad. Celebrities and public figures have had years of social media history dug up over past offences and have lost their careers. If you’re questioning if that joke might be in poor taste, or if an outfit is too inappropriate, or perhaps you’re vacillating over whether to repost a potentially offensive meme, when in doubt, think about ruling it out. This is an important lesson we should teach our kids.
2. Be Polite to Those You Disagree With - It’s okay to have personal opinions and beliefs and even share those with your followers, but openly criticizing someone for sharing an opposing viewpoint will ultimately do more damage than delight. It’s safe to assume that all of your followers don’t think exactly as you do, even those closest to you so, unless you’re trying to alienate part of your audience, out of respect, state your opinions as you see fit, but present it in a way that respects those around you. Take in mind, people will always be offended, even if you’re not trying to be offensive, but putting the effort into being respectful goes a long way.
3. Follow Accounts That Are Healthy for You – It is perfectly okay, and recommended, to unfollow those who bring pessimism to our social media pages, whether it’s someone who is actually negative or an account that we consistently and unhealthily compare ourselves to. Some studies show that even comparing ourselves to others, especially those with negative thinking patterns, can sometimes be detrimental to our mental health. Obviously, if someone is being negative and maybe even bullying on social media, then there is no reason to continue to engage with that person, but not so obvious are those accounts that may be inspiring or motivational but still unhealthy because of how it affects our life’s outlook. We are not obligated to follow or engage with anyone who’s harmful to our mental health, and that’s the message we should impress upon our kids.
4. Cheer Up Other People’s Feed – What if we chose to be good examples on our social media platforms and emulated the types of accounts, we’d want our kids to be motivated and inspired by? What we post actually matters and if we come with the mindset that our kids are watching us and following our lead, then perhaps we’ll be careful the next time we hit “post” or “send.” Social media gives us a platform, no matter how big or small, and we have the ability to use our platforms to spread love. That sounds so cliché but it’s really a great mantra to teach our kids. We can ask ourselves, “is our post inspiring or is it offensive?” Sometimes, even posting an encouraging quote will offend someone, but our goal should never be to intentionally insult or belittle.
5. Be Polite – At some point in our social media journey we’ve encountered people who, no matter what, just want to argue with us, whether it’s in our comment section, or DM or on their own feed. We can politely disagree with them or ignore them altogether. Bantering back and forth usually ends up being a no-win situation that leads to arguing, discourse and stress. We don’t want to get into heated brawls on social media over differing opinions, nor do we want our kids. We also have the right to block or report someone we feel is harassing or bullying us, a lesson we should definitely teach our kids.
In general, social media should be used in moderation, as endless scrolling can easily take us down a rabbit hole of wasted time and fruitless mental output. Psychology Today reported that low levels of social media usage are associated with better mental health. Since most of us do participate on social media and our kids follow our lead, we must make every effort to model appropriate habits that will set them up for social media success.