I was recently on Charlotte Today to talk about gratitude, tweens, and how you can help instill it. Check out the video for some tips:
In what was being hailed by CNN as a groundbreaking investigation into the secret lives of 13-year-olds, Anderson Cooper hosted an hour long special last night called “Being 13,” in which we learned that 13-year-olds are insecure, impulsive, manipulative and confused.
What a dismal hour.
It did not surprise me that some kids take hundreds of selfies before finding the “perfect” one to post online. Or that some kids play with alternate online identities to feel more socially powerful, often by using bad language and aggressive behavior. Or that some kids send dick pics. Or that some kids feel extreme pressure to check their phones constantly to be sure they’re not missing out on anything.
The revelations Cooper unfolded didn’t surprise me, but they didn’t please me, either. Our kids desperately need better guidance, more imposed breaks from social media, and honest non-judgmental conversations about what really happens online.
Which leads me to the real revelation from last night’s special. The big take away from the hour wasn’t about the kids at all. It was about the parents, and one TV host, who got it wrong.
Confronting a small panel of 13-year-olds, for example, Anderson Cooper put one boy on the spot by repeatedly reading his obnoxious posts out loud in front of the group, while the boy obviously squirmed. I watched the program with my own 13-year-old son who cringed and pulled a blanket around himself during this scene. “He’s being such a jerk,” he said, about Cooper, not the boy.
“What about the kid?” I asked. “What he said was terrible.”
“Yeah but he’s not a bad guy. He’s just trying to fit in.”
We saw this sort of bad behavior again, this time when Cooper shared a video one mom took of her daughter’s reaction to being told her phone would be taken away. The girl covered her face with her t-shirt and began to cry in anguish. It verged on a tantrum. The mom laughed incredulously. And she shared the video with the world.
Later, we saw the parents in a focus group with Cooper learn of some of the crude and violent things their kids were saying online. I understand how awful, how awkward, and how embarrassing it would be to hear these things exposed in public. But again, the parents laughed. Admittedly, it may have been the sort of nervous laughter one emits because they simply don’t know how else to react. Nonetheless, the whole thing left me thinking, “If we want to raise kids who are more empathetic, we must begin with more empathy.”
The other issue is this: The laughter, the denial, the shock, they’re all filler for not knowing what to do or say next. If it’s clear from the research that 13-year-olds need help navigating the online world of social media, it’s also clear from this special that adults don’t know where to begin.
The good news among an hour of bad, is that research shows “just trying” has a positive impact on kids’ social media use. As adults, we cannot be dismissive about this new adolescent world. Before giving our kids any tool, whether it’s a pocketknife in boy scouts or a cell phone in middle school, we are obligated to teach them how to use it properly. With social media, too often parents distract themselves with “safety” lessons (avoid stranger danger and location tagging) because that’s easier to get a handle on than etiquette and empathy.
The trouble with news like this is that it says to parents “the situation is dire” and then adds fuel to the fire by showing that producing “gotcha moments” in which we interrogate, embarrass or dismiss our kids is the answer.
If the reaction on Twitter last night is any indication, too many parents finished the hour thinking that “barring the door” may be the only answer to the problem. It’s not. Social media is a part of our lives and we don’t get to take the easy way out by ignoring it or banning it. Kids will just find another way to get there without us.
Instead, we have to become the teachers. For helpful suggestions on guiding kids through Being 13 and the tricky world of social media, check these resources out.
Middle School Makeover: Improving The Way You and Your Child Experience the Middle School Years is a book I wrote for parents of kids in 4th – 8th grade to help you help your kids navigate their new social world. “Icard [offers] spot-on advice for guiding kids through the difficult middle school years, blending thoughtful practicality, and gentle humor.” – Publisher’s Weekly
Should You Let Your Kid Use Instagram? My take on the upsides to social media use and tips parent should follow to keep kids accountable.
Why I Don’t Monitor My Kids Texts Anymore. The key word here is anymore. My views in The Washington Post on why I think parents should wean themselves off too much monitoring.
Seven Ways Parents Can Help 13-Year-Olds Start Their Social Media Lives Right. NY Times writer KJ Dell’Antonia gives practical advice for what every parent should be doing to help kids get a grip on social media.
It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens by Danah Boyd will help you understand the difference in teen’s lives today and show how many kids have or can have healthy relationships with technology.
Media Moms & Digital Dads by Yaldu Uhls comes out on October 27th. Pre-order now for a “fact-not-fear approach to parenting in the digital age.”
I’m now a proud member of the Washington Post’s Talent Network team of freelance writers. Here’s my first WaPo piece, Why I don’t monitor my kids’ texts anymore.
Recently, I was part of a panel discussion about kids and technology. A mom in the audience shared a situation she’d encountered with her son. He is new to texting, and as the texts came through to her son, she was reading them on her iPad, an arrangement they had agreed upon when he started texting.
One evening, the conversation turned “inappropriate” and her son reminded his friends, “Hey remember my mom can see all of this.” At this, the boys ramped up their language. Her son walked downstairs and said to his mom, “What should I do?” The mom suggested he say he had to eat dinner and exit the conversation.
I was so excited to be mentioned by Carson Daly on the TODAY Show as part of their parenting team!
You can see the video here: