What happens when you mix long summer days with a steady flow of SnapChats, tweets, Instagram feeds, and a non-stop hum of group texts streaming into your life?
If you’re an adult, you’ve likely learned how to power off and unplug for a few hours or days when you’ve hit digital overload. If you are a tween or teen, however, those sensors alerting you to trouble have yet to develop fully. So you keep scrolling, texting, posting, reading sometimes mindlessly. It may be a slow, subtle, creep but if you spend more than a few hours a day on your phone, you may experience anxiety, body image issues, sleeplessness, and even some depression, according to several studies (and, let’s be honest, good old common sense).
The summer months can amplify the social highs (friendship, affirmation, memories) and the emotional lows of digital connection (anxiety, cyberbullying, depression).
While the social connection we find in through our digital devices is not inherently dangerous, it can and does go awry if mismanaged. The constant connection can and does go south occasionally and, at times, with significant fallout. Think about it: When you get half a dozen teen girls (or guys) filling a single pipeline of chatter the lack of context, verbal inflection, accountability, and body language can instantly send an innocent chat into a 10-phone collision.
Here are some basic communication tactics with a bit of conflict management thrown to help your tweens and teens dodge the digital fallout this summer.
7 Tips to Help Kids Minimize Digital Friction this Summer
- Schedule Time Off. Sometimes the temptation to go to your phone for mental stimulation is just too much. So, just as you’d schedule time off from work or any other stressful situation, encourage kids to schedule time off from their peers and phones each day. Unplugging and learning to enjoy time alone grows the mind, body, and spirit.
- Stop scrolling, start going! Why scroll through pictures of beautiful places, fun outings, and exciting trips when you can insert yourself into them? Sounds simple but it’s easy to forget that kids just don’t know what they don’t know. Plan a family day of no phones. Fill it with hiking, beach time, kayaking, or even planning a family trip to another county, state, or continent. Want to keep the experience low-cost? That’s easier than you think. Try some of these apps to discover hiking trails nearby, camps, and fun things to do for little or not cost. Simply widening a child’s peripheral vision is enough to get them thinking bigger and reaching for their phone less. Know where to go, with this list of ways to help kids get outside this summer.
- Coach them to cope. If an online conflict does arise, a few simple strategies, well placed, can save the day. But, sometimes kids need coaching. 1) If an online conversation becomes argumentative or uncomfortable, teach your kids how to change the topic. Ask whose going to the baseball game or about a hot shopping spot. It’s an old trick, but it works! 2) Encourage your child to clarify a troubling statement immediately with phrases such as “when you said xx . . . I heard xx . . . is that what you meant?” or “I’m not sure if you are serious or joking right now.”
- Share with caution. Remember the screenshot. Remind your child that a group text (and anything shared online) can be captured and shared outside of that group. Be aware that a digital conversation is never “secret” or “private,” as with the recent Harvard University texting scandal. Nothing is private online — even those seemingly safe conversations.
- Be real. Be kind. Remind your kids to never say anything in a group text or a public post that they would feel uncomfortable (or afraid) saying to that person or the group face-to-face. Because of its remote nature, online chats and texts (in particular with an audience looking on) can spark overconfidence or arrogance and lead to overly brash exchanges. If something hurtful is said, teach your child to take a break and step away before responding.
- Emote with emojis. Those little graphic faces may very well be the best mediator your child has. Emoticons can express instant laughter, joking and help bridge at least a few of the physical deficits of online communication.
- Fix it face-to-face. This last point will require an extra dose of maturity for a tween or teen. Teach your child how to use an online fallout to actually improve their friendships. If a misunderstanding does occur, encourage your child to put his or her phone down and meet with the friend/s face-to-face to work it out. Usually, all involved will agree, that intent was misinterpreted. Teach your child to use “I” statements such as “I feel hurt by some of the stuff you said. I want to talk about it face-to-face in a way we can both feel heard and understood.”
Communicating online is tough for both adults and kids. While our tweens and teens do not need us to rescue them from every online conflict, don’t hesitate, to offer wisdom and guidance as they rise, fall, and mature in the online world.