Last May, the Mutual of Omaha ‘aha moment’ tour kicked off in Sacramento where I met Joyce “Skip” Rochette, of El Dorado Hills, a mother of five children and grandmother five times over as well. She offered a very important insight about the impact parents have in our cyber-powered world.
“We always talk about how much we love our children,” she said. “And of course we love them. The bigger question is what do you ‘like’ about your child?”
Skipp encourages parents to consider how much they reinforce the good character displayed by our children. “Let your children know how much you like it when they do something kind, honorable compassionate or considerate,” she said. Some examples she offered include:
- Picking up clothes and toys without being asked
- Allowing a younger brother or sister to go first
- Telling the truth even though it meant having a consequence
Skipp’s advice really hits at the heart of the crisis for children in their networked environments.
Social media is seductive because we are all seeking acceptance and apps like Facebook and Instagram afford us an opportunity to share and be validated. The pursuit of “likes” and the number of followers can become the main way of gaining assurance that we are acceptable.
So how far are we willing to go in order to be “liked?” What if the perception is that what is likable or acceptable contradicts the elements of trustworthy character, your child’s personality or compromises security? This is where kids can become insecure and fall into risky situations including:
- Being groomed by a pedophile who really “likes” your child’s looks and personality and eventually uses “likes” to convince your child he actually cares
- Agreeing to use and abuse of drugs and alcohol in order to be one of the guys and feel less alone or isolated from “the friend community”
- Texting while driving for fear of offending the person who texted by delaying your reply
- Taking and sending nude photos as an expression of affection
Do we feel we have to go along with the group even if the group is doing something against our own values? For example, does being liked require us to pile on to bullying an individual so as not to become the target?
Anne Collier editor at NetFamillynews.org expresses a similar sentiment that social media can deliver: “We just get so distracted by the newness of this user-generated media environment in which so much of us and our lives is shared. There is more sharing, certainly; there might also be more self-knowledge, self-acceptance, and social-emotional intelligence emerging, depending on how we choose to see this time and its media.”
Kathy Orchard is a counselor at Granite Bay High School in Granite Bay. She observes that children more than anything crave acceptance from parents, family, peers and school. Yet with social media there is tremendous pressure to conform in order to be accepted. “There is an inner critic operating with our children. And parents have high expectations and we need to be very careful about how we talk to them,” Orchard said.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7
Like versus loved
So in this regard, the difference between being loved and “liked” is an important distinction, which has greater importance at home.
Love is something that is unconditional, as our faith calls for us to love God with all our hearts and love our neighbors as ourselves, especially our enemies. So love assumes every individual matters; every life is just as important as another. Being loved is expressed by parents as protection, security and discipline. In this regard, boundaries, or house rules, expressed as God’s love keep us safe by limiting exposure to circumstances that lead to bondage and harm, as our children learn to use their free will responsibly on and off line.
But being liked?
Well being “liked” expresses a preference; it is discretionary, and in our social worlds being liked is not a given. It reflects a level of acceptance that we crave. And yet in family relationships, being liked does not really get much attention. We can find ourselves running on autopilot with busy schedules and multitasking, and taking for granted what each individual offers the family and the community.
Think about what happens when we like someone or something. We take an active interest whether it is a hobby, a movie or a friend. And for our children, especially adolescents, their “likability” is a major part of “fitting in.” And if our children are relying heavily upon the things that social media and their peers are is selecting for being likable, they are at risk of falling out of the character you intend at home.
Kristi Keddy, a mom of two grown sons, and a Chaplain with Fellowship Church, in Granite Bay, is concerned that it is difficult growing up in this networked environment, where everyone is talking and no one is really listening. “True direction comes from God. And so if we are constantly looking to the Facebook feeds for ‘news’ what effect does that have us?”
According to Keddy we don’t give kids credit for knowing this. We are all impacted by the voices in the crowd that can be very distracting from the truth (you actually are a person without a Facebook account) and things that really matter (being a good friend and of service to others, or fitting in by adding value).
Keddy encourages parents to put down the mobile device and really listen to your child. Pay attention to their interests and their reactions to what is happening on and off line.
This can be challenging as our current lifestyles are hectic and replete with mobile connectivity.
In our family, we used a hand signal, which was the peace sign (two fingers held up like a “V” for victory) when my children wanted my attention and I was on the phone or in conversation with another person. They learned to wait patiently until I could find a moment to excuse myself from the conversation, and then I gave them my complete attention.
Translating “likeability” to cyber-security
To promote cyber-secure “likability” in your child it is important to have a general portrait of trustworthy character expressed as the ways in which every family member is respected and held accountable in your home, as well as sincere acknowledgement of individual talents, passions and interests.
- Express boundaries (house rules) as an expression of “likable” trustworthy character. When you are clear about how your beliefs and values govern your life and home, and how your house rules uphold these values, it provides a foundation for the “likable” character traits of being a member of your family – and more importantly of the community at large. Digital natives value trust and trustworthiness. They experience enough divided attention and fakery in their on-line world.
- “Like” the good character demonstrated by your child. When was the last time we gave positive reinforcement to our children for the good decisions they make? Express how you “like” the things about your child that demonstrate trustworthy character: honesty, integrity, kindness, compassion, good work ethic, sincere, loyal, honorable, etc. Catch them doing things right. This is very affirming if done in a genuine way. Be careful that you are not contriving situations. Let your child show up like a leader and then “like” the things they do that reflect your family values.
- Get interested in your child and their interests. Demonstrate a genuine interest in who your child is and what they are interested in – especially the apps and games. What are their passions? What really moves them? How are their talents expressed? From favorite colors and activities to celebrity interests, engage your children in conversation about the qualities of their favorite things.
In their social media apps children seek to be “liked”. So make sure that your child seeks and receives “genuine likes” from home reinforcing your values. It is a great way to bond and keep him secure in the knowledge of who he is to become: a good citizen on and off line who is also lovable.
More on this topic: A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media – coming this fall.
Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She is 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, Tuesdays.
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