A version of this Forum Letter was published in TODAY online on 4 August 2019.
I read the recent article titled "The Big Read: Dangers lurk in youth’s chase for social media ‘likes’ (27 July, 2019)" with great concern. With preteens increasingly drawing personal validation from “likes” and interactions on social media, parents need to play a more active role in journeying with them to navigate these platforms.
For an adolescent, the thrill of online “likes” and interactions may draw them into a deeper addiction to social media, risking greater exposure to online dangers and scams. As such, it is imperative for parents to take intentional steps to be the first line of defense; to safeguard their children against digital dangers and strengthen their identity and self-esteem in these crucial formative years of their lives.
While parents may be concerned with the issue of teens being preoccupied with online social validation, they may also commonly struggle with how to guide their children in navigating these platforms without causing more friction in their parent-child relationship or resulting in greater pushback or resistance from their kids.
Parents may consider adopting a conversational and empathetic approach to better understand their teen's perspective; their motivations for spending time on social media and the value they place on “likes” and viewership garnered from online posts. Children are usually more receptive when parents are attentive in listening rather than being too quick to interject with comments, feedback or remarks.
In addition, parents can also try the funnel-enquiring approach. With this, parents would first encourage their children to share the latest functions or trends on social media platforms, or even ask them to demonstrate how these functions work before enquiring more about their online social environment such as whom they follow online, and which friends are active on social media. As their children become more comfortable sharing each layer of information, parents can take the opportunity to have deeper conversations to understand them better.
Importantly, parents may choose to be more intentional in observing and affirming their children's strengths, positive attitudes and behaviours. When parents validate and affirm their children regularly, it signals that these attributes are more valuable than “likes”, online viewership and popularity. Positive parenting will strengthen the parent-child bond, paving the way for families to have other conversations about the boundaries and limits of using and consuming media.
Our teens today are facing unprecedented levels of pressure, having to navigate the digital space online as well as contend with other issues including academic stress, peer pressure and identity development.
As such, the family’s role in providing acceptance for a child is crucial in providing security and stability in their growing years. When parents demonstrate love, appreciation and acceptance towards their children, they in turn grow up to be more confident in who they are – online and offline.
Chong Ee Jay (Mr)
Family Life Specialist
Focus on the Family Singapore
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