I retweeted this message from Emily Roberts (therapist and author). "Parents, ask your kids, 'Would you say that to her face?' When texting, pause before you post."
There's a big cyber-world out there, where what should be private becomes dangerously public. Our children are especially at risk of damaging relationships and their own reputation. A little empathy and awareness can go a long way in helping them maneuver through this world in a more healthy way.
"Would you say that to her face?" What a great question. It has become way too easy to type out a message and send it off into cyberspace. Technology has given us the ability to send information faster and farther than ever before. As a tool for staying in touch with family and friends, it's great. As a way to speak your mind, it can be messy, irresponsible and even harmful. Be careful when you press the 'send' button!
What would you say differently, or not at all, if the person was standing in front of you? This question is for you, parents, as well as for your kids.
Think about it for a moment. When you speak directly to someone, there are visual and auditory cues coming at you - a facial expression, tone of voice, body language, their immediate response. This is a living, feeling person you are talking to, not just the faceless idea of someone. Email, texting, voicemail... in some instances they have become an impersonal way of communicating, one that allows us to ignore our responsibility for what we put out there. It can be the quick and easy way out. In the extreme, it is dangerous. Depending on the circumstances, it can also be a form of bullying.
A strategy that comes up all the time is to "take five" before responding so that you say what you really mean. This is a good strategy for the written word, too. I have heard stories of people sending off an email to someone they are angry at. They end up in an email battle, messages flying back and forth, and sometimes irreparable damage is done to the relationship. (And let's not forget the risks involved in "reply all". When did everything become everybody's business anyway?)
The dangers for our teens are very real, whether they are on the sending or receiving side of these messages. Teenagers have far less impulse control and are swayed more by their emotions and their need to fit in. Encourage your children to 'take five' too. Ask them if they would have the courage to speak their mind, face to face. This is a real test of their character. Remind them that once they say something, it takes on a life of its own and cannot be undone.
As always, consider what you are teaching your children. If you are already aware and careful in how you communicate, bravo! If you think there is room for change, do it now. Take a look at what you say, how you express it, and how you send it out into the world. And tell your kids about your new attitude. Teach them well and show them how it's done!
Fern Weis is a Parent Coach and Family Recovery Life Coach. She works with parents of teens and young adults who are going through difficult situations, from the homework wars to addiction recovery, and all points in between. Fern helps parents release guilt, end enabling, and confidently prepare their children to thrive and be successful through life's challenges. FernWeis.com | 201-747-9642