How do we build our child’s self esteem away from the screens? Away from the likes and followers and shares that have become the social currency for popularity, confidence and self worth?
There is no doubt that uploading a photo online becomes a way to measure status. I read recently about the ‘100 plus or bust’ notion whereby teens will delete a photo if it doesn’t quickly amass over 100 likes, therefore deeming it unfit to remain as a symbol of their lack of popularity. The lack of likes however, probably has little to do with image quality, focus, composition, technique or originality of the photo.
Likewise, many kids are eagerly amassing friends and followers regardless of ever having had a personal interaction. They are asking these same ‘friends’ to rate them on a scale of 1 to 10 for anything from looks, body, intelligence to sporting prowess. They may well get lots of positive affirmations and enthusiastic “you’re so pretty, gorgeous, smart, sexy etc”. They may also get the odd home truth or nasty comment that seems to instantly silence all the glowing reviews. That’s OK for some kids. They can brush it off as just ‘part and parcel’ of the idiosyncracies of the online world. There are others, however, who do not cope so well with the naysayers. Those that stew over comments, become anxious about everything they post and suffer immeasurably from the negative outbursts.
Now let me say that there is also lots of great and positive elements to kids socialising online. It can connect them when they feel isolated, it can help them share teenage angst and garner support from others and they can use it as a positive addition to the self esteem and confidences they enjoy in their day to day activities and interactions away form the screens.
So how do we ensure our kids grow up full of a confidence that is aided by social media not hindered by their experiences?
Build their independence and resilience early
Make sure they are confident in their own abilities to problem solve themselves. Let them to do things that may result in failure but allows them to pick themselves up. Let them know that mistakes are OK, as long as we learn something from them.
Encourage activities and pursuits
Having interests away form the screens, belonging to teams, clubs and groups where their achievements and efforts are recognised and celebrated. Feeling part of a community can be an invaluable element to fostering self worth.
Helping others and Volunteering
Giving kids the opportunity to help others, to coach a junior team, help out with practise or help others less fortunate are great ways to build self worth. Developing empathy for others helps kids to realise that the world is a much larger place that their social media feeds.
Spend time with them
Find things they like to do. It is easy to spend time with our kids when they are young. We can take them to the park, play games, read them books. As they get older however and we are not so cool to hangout with it becomes trickier. But we need to look for times to spend just being together, whether that’s watching a movie they like, playing a game (even if it’s a video game!), grabbing a milkshake on the way home from sports training . Or sometimes just sitting on their bed at night and letting them know you are there.
Family meals and rituals
Having regular moments of connection that are part of their everyday can be critical in providing stability and security. Connecting as a family with a nightly meal has been proven to be an effective way to give kids the comfort of knowing they have a place that is familiar and safe and unconditional. Or look for other rituals to provide this security.
Communicate often about what is happening online
Talk to them about the things you see online, let them know you have an understanding, learn about it and be sure to look at things from their perspective. Use teachable moments to highlight when things go wrong and be sure that you remain relevant to their world so that they know you are there should something go wrong.
See you disconnect
Be sure they are witness to times when you put away the technology , enjoying the moments of face to face interaction and enjoy pursuits that don’t involve a device. Kids learn way more from watching than from anything we can say.
Teach them to be assertive
Teach them to look at their own needs, and be assertive with those things the need or want. (Obviously some kids have absolutely no problem with this!) We need them to be able to say “no” when something isn’t right and not to be bullied by others.
Kids will increasingly be living out much of their social interaction in an online, connected world. Lets make sure these experiences are a compliment, and not a hindrance, to the individual growth and self worth that takes place way from the screens.