As parents, we work hard to safeguard our children from a myriad of physical dangers.
We purchase covers for our power outlets and we teach them to look both ways before crossing the street and to fasten their seatbelts when riding in a car. We remove obstacles and introduce safety products all in an effort to create a safe environment for them to move around.
In the age of potentially harmful influences that gain access to our homes through various online platforms, successfully parenting the modern child might feel like an elusive task, but it doesn’t need to be. By taking small and simple steps to support children’s mental health, parents can take a prominent role in preparing their children for today’s challenges. Here are four healthy ways parents can intervene to help their children in this digital age.
Nurturing healthy relationships
Healthy relationships begin with good communication skills. Good communication skills begin at home. Children model what they see and experience in the world around them; if our homes are places where children feel loved, accepted and listened to, their outside relationships will reflect that influence.
To build healthy relationships with our children, it’s a good idea to designate special one-on-one time with them, take an interest in what appeals to or troubles them, limit interruptions when they are sharing personal experiences, make eye contact and model active listening.
We can own our feelings and be honest with our children when we make mistakes or when we don’t know how to respond and need some time to think. This humanizes us and creates a foundation of trust, which then creates a space for our children to be vulnerable with us as well.
Promoting positive self-esteem
Having a positive self-image helps children make healthier choices, have more meaningful relationships and feel confident in saying no to dangerous situations. Parents can support this development by offering genuine praise and celebrating efforts over accomplishments. They can do this by replacing comments that promote a fixed mindset, (e.g., “You are so smart”) with praise statements that promote a growth mindset (e.g., “You really worked hard on that”). This technique is a small but powerful way to communicate that success is linked to effort and effort can be exercised by anyone.
Parents can also promote positive self-esteem by removing the stigma from making mistakes. If children understand that mistakes are natural and promote genuine growth, they will develop the necessary building blocks for resiliency.
We are biologically inclined to want to save our children. While this natural response is a necessary reaction against physical dangers, caring for our children’s mental health requires that we also consider allowing our children to reason through problems on their own.
We can create opportunities for children to practice their reasoning skills by making a simple shift from offering solutions to asking open-ended questions like “What do you think we could do?” Offering choices and opportunities for children to contribute to the home also empowers them to develop the confidence they will need to navigate today’s challenges.
Discussing internet safety
Far too often, adolescents overshare personal information on social media platforms, making them easy targets for online predators of all ages. Encouraging our children to make the following assumptions can help them become savvy social media participants:
- Assume everyone has access to what you post. Teachers, friends, current and potential future employers, current and potential future significant others, future in-laws and so on will all have access to what you decide to post today.
- Assume what you post will be posted forever regardless of whether you choose to delete it now or at a future date. People can take screenshots of your information and do anything they like with that information.
- Assume there are online predators trying to find
- . Assume that the information you post online will be used to do you harm. Adolescents should understand that information such as school names, class schedules, after school routines and car license plates could all be used by someone who might want to find them and harm them.
- Assume your friends don’t want you to post pictures of them. Adolescents should practice social media etiquette by asking before posting a photo or video of someone else.
Modeling smart, healthy social media and internet behaviors for our children also promotes our children’s mental health. Educating our children about the value of “unplugging” from devices for technology-free time creates a space for them to participate in these behaviors.
By nurturing healthy relationships, promoting positive self-esteem, encouraging problem-solving and discussing internet safety, parents can take a prominent role in preparing their children for the challenges of our digital age.
For more information about caring for your child’s mental health and promoting safe social media practices, please visit http://uasp.wildapricot.org/events to register for this year’s Utah Association of School Psychologists Fall Conference held on Oct. 25 at the Davis Conference Center. This year’s conference will be focused on “Social Media and Mental Health: Living a Balanced and Happy Life.” Dr. Sarah Coyne will be providing concrete tools and interventions, as well as strategies for positive use of social media and implications for suicide prevention for parents and educators alike. Together we can make a difference.