Just over thirty-three years ago when I became a mama for the first time, at my very first visit at the pediatrician's office I noticed a sign in the waiting room that said "children live what they learn". I don't remember if it was a commercial poster or a local, patient donated cross-stitch display, but my pediatrician had both types of wall art on her waiting room walls and in each of her exam rooms. She was an awesome doctor that had a huge heart for children. Either way, the message stuck with me all these years. It was the first time I ever saw it, and the message was quite clear:
BE A GOOD EXAMPLE AS THE ADULT IN YOUR CHILD'S LIFE.
I tried. God knows I tried, but for the next 10-15-20 years life was super hard and I missed the mark daily. Sometimes hourly. Since then, things have changed and I only pray I'm finally at a place where I can be that mom, the mom being the good example, more often than not.
I thought about all this when the recent trauma in the last few months has hit my local community of Woodstock Ontario. To be honest though, I've actually been thinking about it for 33 years but it really became far more real recently, as five teens in my community have made the devastating decision to end their own lives as a result of of wide variety of social and personal pressures. Three of my own teenagers knew many of these kids, and it's become an almost daily conversation around our dinner table since the beginning of this year. In a sense you can say, the reality of these heartbreaking suicides of these young people really gave that message some critical legs. For that reason, and in keeping with the message of "children live what they learn" I really want to focus in on one, specific example that kids have in front of them these days where responsible, adults can make a phenomenal impact.
It's a game changer, when it comes to parenting. Many of us never had this pressure when we were growing up, or when we ourselves were young moms. It's really only become a thing, in the last 10-12 years but many of our teens are 100% caught up in this world of communication. No two ways about it, there's a learning curve for parents who really want to be there for their kids and be a good example. Granted, none of what I have to say will be a 100% guarantee that your kids won't hear a conflicting message (from what you have to say) or see a conflicting example (from how you handle social media), but the awesome thing is, is that as their parent YOU will be the most constant, consistent example they will ever see. Day in, day out, week after week, month after month, year after year. If you think your kids aren't watching and listening to what you do and say, think again. Even teens themselves don't realize how much they take away from what mom or dad is doing, saying or responding to, but the most certainly do. That old cliche "oh wow, I've become my own mom!" is proof enough, that we are in fact, the most influenced by the way we were raised up, either good, or bad. Nurture, or lack of it, has a tremendously profound effect on who or what our kids become.
So this part... is just for PARENTS and what kind of example you're setting for your kids as it pertains to social media (SM). You may not think it matters, but I assure you it 100% totally matters, in ways you can't even see right now. Not all of these examples will apply to you but I would encourage you to read them all, think about them all, pray about them, talk to your kids about them, and really ask yourself what kind of constant, consistent example you're being for your young people. Moms and dads alike.
• Do you... have your privacy settings locked down so that only people that actually know you can see what you're posting on a personal level? (sometimes you might want to post something publicly, but that should be a per post decision, not across the boards) On the same note, do you talk to your kids about why they should guard their privacy online as well as offline?
• Do you... avoid online drama shows, or do you engage in them? This one is HUGE. Sometimes you might feel it's important to post your viewpoint and that's fine, but do you step back and walk away when the serious drama begins or do you jump right in?
• Do you... hear or read something online and let loose on what a jerk, liar, moron, fraud, creep, etc., that person is and post your thoughts where any and all can read them? Well, some people are creeps and they should be called out. But more importantly... what message is that sending to those watching? What message does that send to young people as an example of how we as adults, conduct ourselves and how we treat people we disagree with? Almost all of us are guilty of this, me included. Sometime it's hard to temper our responses with grace, but we MUST. That is, if we want our young people to know and understand that sometimes, while anger is justified, grace goes a long way too. There is a way to disagree, and even disagree passionately and still not devolve into a raging madman (or woman).
• Do you routinely block those who say unkind, ungracious things so that you're not tempted to respond to them, or do you leave your settings as is, and find yourself compelled to be drawn back in? This is a tough call, depending on the issue but you really have to ask yourself if "this" is the hill you're willing to die on. Does it really matter, in the grand scheme of things? Are these people really going to hear and apply what you have to say? Odds are: NO, they're not. There are people out there who just like to push buttons and keep the garbage going. It's important to pick your battles and much of the time the things people like to argue about online aren't really worth arguing about in the first place.
You need to be teaching your young people that their worth is centered in a completely different place. Are they reliable? Trustworthy? Responsible? Respectable? Modest? Honest? Honorable? The value of a person or the value of what they have to share (online or offline) is based on the content of their character as a human being, not on the cleavage selfie they just posted on instagram for the sole purpose of getting likes and compliments. This never changes. EVER. That stuff fades fast, and there's a girl with a racier cleavage selfie just 1 click away. But the girl who just posted the desires of her heart or her hopes for the future or the thing she's struggling to understand? That resonates with people, young and old alike. But no matter what, that should never be the reason you post anything. Of course you want people to connect with what you post but should want them to connect with it because it's good for them, encourages them, makes them smile or makes them think not because it makes you the center of attention.
• Do you... mom or dad, ever hear your kids or anyone else say "would you please put that phone down?" If you do, DO IT. And do it a lot more often. Stop assuming there are more important things happening on social media than are happening in your own home with the people you live with. I can assure you, unless there is a zombie apocalypse somewhere, there's a very good chance there is absolutely nothing more important going on with complete strangers, than there is with the people you love. Be there for them, and set the example for them.
• Do you... mom, dad, have these conversations with your young people about these things? If yes, you rock. If no, start. Today. There is no time like the present to let your kids know you're living in the very same SM world they are, and you deal with the same stuff they see every day. It might be a little different for you than it is for them but at the end of the day, it's probably a struggle for both of you in very similar ways. Talk to them, listen to them. Ask them "well, what would you do if..." and ask them what they think you should do in key situations regarding conversations about particular issues. Teenagers are juggling so many thoughts at once and the one thing they really really want more than just about anything, is to be heard and respected for what they have to say. That being said, what they have to say isn't always right or good, but listen to them and gently guide them into a better solution. A smart solution, an honorable and respectable one. Sometimes, your young people may pleasantly surprise you and offer an answer even you haven't thought of. Tell them, how much you appreciate what they had to say about that. You may be the parent, but the fact is, sometimes young people see things we don't see and have a viewpoint we never even considered because we don't really get the social construct they deal with on a day to day basis. Our world and our societal values change rapidly, and younger people are more in tune with it than older folks are. It just the way it is. This doesn't mean we compromise our values or worldview, but it gives us a better starting place to respond to them if we actually hear what our young people are saying.
This was not meant to be a comprehensive answer to anything or to say that this mom has it all down pat. Far from it. It's just one slice, of one part, of one issue today's parents and today's young people are dealing with. It's not easy for any of us. It's not easy for them, it's not easy for us as parents. But it's something we have to invest in, pursue, and be consistent with. We, as parents, have to give our young people GOOD examples so they can take that and expound on it, and build on it. It's an ongoing thing in our home, literally every single day. we have a 12, 15, 17 and 18 yr old still at home dealing will all of these issues day in and day out. We open the floor for them, we listen, we guide, we pray, we hope. I only hope the most important thing we do is hear them, and give them the resources we've learned ourselves, on how to deal with these things and how to interpret these things.
We strive every day to be those parents. I pray you will too. Your kids are depending on it, even if they don't even know it right now. Even if you don't realize it right now. They are.