This time of year, kids want to impress new friends. Use these expert tips to help them do that in a self-aware way, both on and offline.
Back-to-school is an exciting time. New backpacks, clothes, teachers and classmates make for lively conversations. It’s also the moment when your tween or teen is defining who they are, both for themselves and to their peers. It’s a good time to check in, to make sure they’re doing that in a healthy way, both on and offline. We’ve gathered some expert tips to help you do just that.
Talking with your child about authenticity
Ask your child about how they present themselves online. “Ask why they are choosing certain photos,” says Dr. Jenny Radesky, a developmental behavioral pediatrician who co-authored the 2016 American Academy of Pediatrics digital media guidelines for young children. “Help them reflect on how they want to present themselves. Are they only choosing the perfect photos to post with carefully thought-out captions? Does this persona match who they are in real life?” she asks.
On the flip side, discuss whether your child thinks their online friends are also being genuine. “If they can see that the other people online are sometimes engaged in a sort of disingenuous project too, perhaps they won't be as affected by how people react to them,” says Dr. Jeske.
Make light of “Likes”
While young people benefit from feeling connected to and/or part of something, they also use social media to gain approval from peers. And that’s stressful. Online “friends” can react to each other with over-simplified “likes” and “hearts.” Kids can easily get obsessed with how many they receive and by whom as the popularity contest of teen years goes digital.
Dr. Radesky recommends showing kids the less serious side of this feedback. “Try responding to your children’s conversation attempts by saying ‘Like!’ or ‘Heart that!’ in real life, to show them how this response feels compared to an actual, contingent, thought-out response,” she says. This can be helpful to call out if they’re stressed about their friend count or upset by a reaction (or lack thereof) to a post they made.
Reflect on encounters IRL
If your child seems affected by the number of online followers and “likes,” remind them about the pleasure and satisfaction of real-life encounters. After sports practice or movie night, help your child think about what feels good about hanging out with friends in real life and how this compares to hanging out with friends online. Dr Rasesky suggests this kind of support could be extremely helpful.
For those kids who struggle making friends in real life, Dr. Radesky suggests getting them involved in afterschool activities that play to their strengths, where they will find like-minded kids. “Children love feeling understood,” she says. “A good friend understands you, and this in itself is reinforcing.”
Social media is a reality. It can be an important socialization tool. And many kids need that tool in order to acclimate to (or even just stay connected with) their friend communities. This conversation can help your child show up in their worlds in both confident and authentic ways. And we think that’s a win-win.