Social media has changed everything - the way we share and consume information, learn, argue, show gratitude, display anger, grieve, celebrate, shop, explore, and much, much, more. Being from the last generation to experience an "analog" childhood and "digital" adulthood, I am acutely aware of the stark differences between the two worlds.
I've been thinking more and more about these differences as my kids get older. And like every other parent out there, I am concerned that my kid's generation will be even more disconnected from human interaction - from being able to look someone in the eyes and have an actual conversation. Or even pick up a phone (which I'm already horrible at, myself).
Will our kids be able to process and deal with with emotions like fear, anger, sadness, jealously, excitement, etc. because it is much different when you're staring these emotions in the face versus through a screen.
Will they have the confidence to ask a question in a classroom or share an idea in a business meeting?
How do I make sure they understand the value of "analog" relationships?
How do you teach empathy in the digital age?
BUT (and this is a big but) - being connected and having so much information at our fingertips is incredibly powerful.
Social media enables us to keep up with family and friends, work associates, and groups. It gives us access to more learning resources than I couldn't even begin to imagine finding in the community library of my childhood or my Encyclopedia Britannica set.
Social media has revolutionized the way companies market and sell their products. It's no longer a one-way conversation where companies tell us what THEY want us to hear about their product - they are now held accountable and have to work harder for our loyalty and dollars. There is much power in that.
When it comes to social media, whether the good out-weighs the bad or vice versa makes no difference. Absolutely no difference.
These forms of communication are here to stay, my friends. And they are likely to get even more crazy. This is not a silly fad. At some point our kids will be exposed to these social networks. And if you think you can stop it, I invite you to remove your head from the sand and consider a different approach. Because, honestly, in 15 years, the kids who were never exposed to and taught about these networks and technologies will be the ones that struggle the most. Those of you out there who are taking a stand against social media *insert eye roll* are doing more harm than good.
Can you tell I'm a little passionate about this?
I live and breathe this stuff every single day in the retail and marketing world. There is a reason countless retailers are closing physical store locations by the hundreds. There is a reason our grocery stores are letting us pick up our groceries curbside (or delivering). There is a reason Facebook rolled out an official "recommendations" post option for when we need to find a good plumber or place to eat. There is a reason our neighborhoods, schools and communities have social media accounts. It's now even how we consume our local news and severe weather updates.
As parents we HAVE to have a much different conversation about our youth and social media. And it's not an abstinence message.
I'm not a child behavioral expert. Honestly, this is fairly uncharted territory as far as research goes. And I have a feeling that understanding the best parenting practices in this area will be a moving target as the technology and platforms shift and evolve.
There is one thing we can ALL do no matter what changes come our way...
USE OUR SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS LIKE WE'D WANT OUR KIDS TO.
We HAVE to lead by example.
And let's start by addressing a big, ugly, glaring hypocrisy I've noticed that we are ALL guilty of...
Your dirty laundry shouldn't be on Facebook, right? Right!
We know that nothing ever goes away on the Internet. We should be thoughtful and responsible with whatever we post! All the ugly things about life are just not meant to be posted in these forums...
However, here's the flip side of that coin...we accuse many people only posting the "good" stuff on social media. Of being "so fake."
C' mon.... You know you have a selfie cemetery on your phone with all the pics that didn't make the final Instagram post. I know I do. I mean, why would you want to intentionally post an unflattering photo? Unless you're on Snapchat, I suppose.
The issue here is simple - we don't want people to post about their problems, but we also think people are fake on social media because they only post the good stuff.
Here are 3 rules to help us use social media like we'd want our kids to:
#1. Cleanse your friend list.
If you wouldn't stop to have a conversation with said Facebook friend in a public supermarket or park, they probably should not be on your friends list. Especially if you're posting vacation photos and checking in at your kid's daycare. *Exemption - Certain people are allowed to have a more public social media accounts...like photographers and other visual artists for example. It's just a good rule of thumb to keep personal posts off these accounts.
#2. [Before you post.] Check your motivation.
Is this post helpful? Is it happy? Is it genuine? Is it real? And if you post something controversial or extremely personal it's OK - just be prepared to deal with the surge of comments (both on and off the platform) and potential arguments that may occur. It's always a good idea to make sure you're sharing personal information with people who sincerely care about you and want to see you thrive (see #1 above).
#3. [Before you comment (or ignore).] Don't be a jerk.
Some people are more comfortable expressing themselves via written word. Others just need attention or help or someone to care. Needing these things is a very human thing! We all need them from time to time. If you scroll past a post that "over-shares" and thus makes your skin crawl, keep scrolling. Or heck, try having a little compassion. And if the friend is a repeat offender, perhaps you would NOT talk to them in a supermarket anyway (see #1 above).
In the virtual world (just as we would in the physical world) we should surround ourselves with people we love and admire! People who make us laugh and inspire us. And also people who challenge us and keep us on our toes. Our friends, virtual or physical, should enrich our lives and make us better people.