By Judith E. Lipson, M.A., LPC
Many of this column’s readers are digital natives, growing up in the age of digital technology -unlike digital immigrants like me. Natives have always known the computer, games and the Internet. Today’s youth have always had social media.
Social media, which includes Facebook and Twitter, is neither good nor bad. It’s a means for people to communicate instantly and across vast distances. Time zones and location no longer determine connectedness. Information is immediate and available, real-time. This means that one can write or post without thinking of the ramifications.
Teach children early, and on a continuing basis, to only write or photograph what EVERYONE can know and see! This is true of texting, emails, chats, tweets, Facebook, etc. Police, employers and administrators have access – even to what we think is hidden. “Trusted peers” may innocently (or purposely) share a photo or message with someone, and suddenly it’s viral. Viral is great when posting your song on YouTube, but not when it’s sensitive information about feelings, thoughts or anatomy. When I was first introduced to work emails, my husband told me, “Never write anything that you don’t want displayed on an I-75 billboard”. Others have said, “Don’t write anything that you wouldn’t say or show to your grandma.” Find the proper analogy for your child. Teach and reteach.
When your child texts or has conversations on-line, they may lose important social and language skills, e.g.: facial cues, body language, vocal nuances, give-and-take, timing, etc. Provide ample opportunities for your child to experience and practice these skills through face-to-face communication.
Another concern is the amount of time spent on computers, phones and electronic games. Parents used to be cautioned to not use TV as a babysitter. Electronic games may seem like a necessity when children are bored, but balance is required. Keep your kids verbally and visually engaged at dinner, with family, at events, with their friends.
Many children and adults play electronic games for hours to distract their minds from negative self-talk and to avoid uncomfortable feelings. Electronic gaming is effective at overriding thoughts and emotions – the quick, constant movements keep the brain from inner thought. Taking games away increases agitation and makes an already tough situation more challenging. Kids don’t know other ways to self-sooth and are afraid to lose the only strategy they know.
December can be a stressful month: additional expenses, change in structure, forced time with extended family, and kids longing to stay connected with friends from school. Use this time to reconnect your nuclear family: Take mini trips, play games, share community service projects, even do household chores together.
Strategies for December and always:
- Keep the phone/game out of sight and hand.
- Children should have phones only when they need them and smart phones only when there is maturity.
- Repeatedly caution your children about the types of personal information that can be safely posted.
- Remind your children to pause before writing to evaluate the effect of their words.
- Place the home computer in a visible location.
- Regularly check the history on your computers’ Web browsers to see where kids are surfing.
- Set an example by limiting your own cyber use and interacting with your friends/family.
- “Unplug” – have specified times and days when there is no electronic use. Encourage family games, creative activities and large-motor play.
- Make your house the go-to location for play without electronics.
- Teach healthier methods to relax and de-stress (see Anxiety in Children).
Judy Lipson is a Licensed Professional Counselor and educational strategist in West Bloomfield. She helps clients of all ages who have learning difficulties; work or school related anxiety; ADHD; Asperger’s Syndrome or Autism Spectrum Disorders; and those who wish to Remember and Become Who You Really Are. Contact Judy at 248.568.8665 and firstname.lastname@example.org, and visit www. SpiralWisdom.net for more information.
Published in Metro You Magazine, December 2011