A recent article in the Chicago Tribune crystallizes the emerging “disconnect” between generations as experts are encouraging parents to coach their children to make voice contact rather than texting with grandparents who live far away.
As texting becomes the main artery of communication, there is a risk that connecting with others may be perceived as a bunch of contacts in a network, and the skills essential to nurturing meaningful relationships may not fully develop. Evidence for this concern is the cyberbully culture impacting the quality of our children’s social lives and their educational experience.
Email, posts and texting can make a person feel somewhat anonymous because you are not confronting the individual; the screen is shielding us from the analog connection conveyed by the heart via voice and eye contact. So indeed it is easy to be mean from behind the screen, because the face-to-face and voice interactions elicit a response from the other person which then invokes empathy. We can find ourselves behaving out of character on-line ( much like what happens when we are behind the wheel of a car).
In this regard, the on-line world promotes a bully culture that puts the focus on “me” – a very self-centered world view that can make it difficult to form connections that produce the bonding inherent in meaningful and secure relationships.
Connecting to character in the social network
Children in their cyber-powered communities can be easily seduced into the “bully-victim” character – even if they simply choose to say and do nothing when they witness unkind things being said. In the social network, conforming to the manipulations of others by: a) piling on, b) saying nothing, or c) personally experiencing harassment as the target eventually becomes a new norm.
How can we help our children deal with this bully pressure in a healthy way?
By understanding our own ability, as parents, to connect in safe and healthy ways is a byproduct of our true identity. It doesn’t mean others will never offend you, or that your kindness will not be met with hostility, innocent slights, ingratitude or malice, but it does help you be more discerning and confident about who is ready to be in a genuine relationship that involves actual caring. In some profound ways cyber powered connectivity puts us all in a recovery mode; we must all be on a recovery mission for our nature as confident and kind beings amidst the fear and fakery in the network.
Our children need to experience “connecting” with others in relationships with a strong sense of their own identity as a person with the power to love and be loved. And this is something than can be modeled with the authenticity that comes from our own faith.
How does your faith define your character?
Jodie Stevens is the hostess of The Fish Family Morning Show on 103.9FM. She has started a blog, Genuine Life with Jodie Stevens, that expresses brilliantly how when we apply our own faith, we can come into alignment with the character of God as described in 1 Corinthians. 13: 4-7, for example, and then relate to others and respond to unkind acts with resiliency. A simple concept that is easier said than done.
“The beautiful thing about God’s discipline is this: the more extreme the consequences are, the more valuable the lessons are, if we choose to heed them,” she writes.
Help your child make authentic connections
How can our children realize their own power to love and be loved in their connections with others? We don’t want our kids connecting to just anyone to say anything on or off-line. Clarify that the nature of their own identity is comprised of two main parts:
- The core character that makes any individual resilient and trustworthy. This is their internal guidance system or moral compass (for how to treat other human beings). This involves beliefs (about self and others) – such as the world does not evolve around you (God-centered living), and expressing values such as honesty, kindness, reliability and trustworthiness in your communications and relationships. The inner core, when it is defined around the character of God’s love, is what makes it possible for us to stand our ground and be confident and considerate when relating to others on or off line. The idea is that your mom or grandma would recognize your profile on line because the inner core of your identity is not abandoned in order to try and impress other people.
- Outer layer of identity involves personality traits and talents (your personal opinions, interests, passions and abilities). The internet tends to hype the outer layer (my profile, my image, my network, my preferences, # of likes, etc.) – all of the surface stuff, – raw, overly exposed and self-centered. Because the core character is what makes it possible for us to stand our ground and be confident and considerate when relating to others, the hyper focus on the outer layer, the superficial stuff makes us insecure and unstable because now we are dependent upon circumstances and people for validation.
When children understand the core elements of their identity evolve around the characteristics we are seeking in others (i.e, respect, compassion, honesty and mercy), it is possible to establish boundaries for attracting and nurturing relationships that are genuine and caring.
For more about strategies for parenting in the social network, see: A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media.
Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She a mother of two grown sons, the author of The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture, produces The Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner column on Examiner.com, and is the CyberParenting advisor on The Fish 103.9FM. Her new book, A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media is now available for PC and all eReader formats including Kindle, Nook, iPad.