A wise person once said, “You can’t compare your inside to someone else’s outside.” When we judge who we are by comparing ourselves to how we see someone else, we risk feeling less attractive, less smart, less lucky, less athletic, less valuable, less popular, less … less … less.
Comparing ourselves to others is a sure way to end up feeling dissatisfied, jealous, and even depressed about our life, our situation, and who we are. The damage we do to our self-esteem can be fleeting or can continue to chip away at our psyche, leaving permanent scars. Because of their emotional and social immaturity, our children are prime victims for this eroding of their sense of self.
The newest form of this comparison is coming at our children at a rapid rate, 24 hours a day if they have the access, and in their face in a way that towers over what children of my generation dealt with. Of course you realize I am referring to that double-edged sword: social media. There is even an expression – “Facebook Depression” – being used to describe how some children and adults feel when they turn off their computers after Facebook time.
What is going on here? Isn’t Facebook the miraculous place where we can reunite with old friends with a simple click and learn about their lives and families? Isn’t it a wonderful way to share our lives with others not close to us geographically? Well, yes, it is a miraculous phenomenon available to us today. However, it has another, darker side we need to protect our children from, and sometimes even ourselves. This article will discuss a few possible dangers in using Facebook that we need to help our children understand.
“Friending” versus Friendship
One hazard is assuming that “friending” someone on Facebook is the same as being a friend. Our children need to experience true friendship that involves personal interaction with another. A friend is someone they can learn to trust, laugh with, argue with and apologize to. They need to be willing to be inconvenienced when a friend is in need. They need to share ideas and good fortune as well as tears and disappointments, and other emotions as well. A Facebook friend, on the other hand, shares what he or she chooses, and usually only the “good stuff.” If we respond by a quick comment or “Like,” it is appreciated, but pales in comparison to a give-and-take conversation. There is nothing wrong with these “click exchanges,” but they are not as meaningful as a true eye-to-eye conversation toward building an actual relationship.
Facebook can also be the pulpit of a bully, someone who uses the site to make fun of another. This can be particularly harmful to children at a certain age, particularly in middle school, when their developmental level steers them into conforming to and seeking constant approval from their peer group, the most important social outlet to them.
It’s Not All True or Real
Another hidden danger with Facebook is the fact that immature pre-teens and teens believe everything they read is true and written by who the writer professes to be. We have all heard of predators out there who prey on children’s trust and many children have been seriously hurt by these people.
Helping Your Children Figure it Out
What can responsible parents do to help our children through this prevalent, miraculous/ dangerous form of communication? I will mention three here, but I am sure you can think of many more.
When we educate our children, we help them understand that they cannot believe everything they read. When they think something is “fishy”, it probably is, and they need to let us help them manage the questionable material. We can also remind them that trusting someone they do not know in person is not a good idea, and the same applies on the Internet.
Before you give your child his first device with an Internet connection, inform him you will be monitoring his use on a regular and random basis. Remember, you are the parent, not the friend. If he is like most preteens/teens, he will whine and complain, but stand firm. He has no idea how harmful some of the sites and posts can be when they “pop up,” but you do. Your job is to protect him from them as much as possible.
- Encourage Friend Time
Provide time and space for friends to come over. When you encourage real, live friendships any chance you get, you are helping your child learn the value of a true friend, someone who will be there for her when an ugly personal remark or a suspicious invitation is posted online.
Help your children enjoy the wonders of this technological age, but stay aware of the pitfalls as well. You can help them become intelligent and critical users of the Internet, and keep their sense of self intact and healthy.
Betts Hunter Gatewood is a National Board Certified school counselor with 28 years’ experience in elementary and middle school counseling. She holds an EdS degree from USC and has authored or co-authored four books on school counseling strategies and activities. She and her husband are the proud parents of three adult children and have four granddaughters and a grandson.