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How To Start Talking To Your Child About Their Digital Life

December 14, 2018 - Children, Empathy, Parenting, parents, Social Media, Teens - , , , , , ,

I want to write a little bit about the word empathy. We know what it means. We’re educated people. We get it. We hear the word all the time. Many people say empathy is sorely lacking in today’s society.

One of the reasons why this word is important to us is the way that we use it at Above The Fray and the context in which we share it with parents. We’ve come up with a term we call digital empathy.

Digital empathy means something a little bit different, but digital empathy is the most important part of the conversation that parents can have with their children. It has to be rooted here. It has to come from that place of love and support. It has to come from that place of understanding.

So, what does digital empathy mean exactly? It’s pretty simple. It means we don’t get it. We don’t get what they’re going through. We don’t understand the pressures of current technology being part of a teenage life.

I’m in my 40s. I got online for the first time in 1992, and from there I was able to on-ramp and to grow. My first pager. My first computer at work. The first company I worked for that had a website. Just like you, I grew into this place.

Our children don’t have that luxury. We’ve created this information superhighway. We’ve created the internet and technology, everything out there, and we just give them complete and unsupervised access – and we expect them not to screw up!

They can’t. They’re children. Of course, access to some of this stuff is going to cause problems. But when we start talking with them, when we start communication, an important dialogue with our children, it has to come from this place of understanding, of love, of support. That’s digital empathy.

And the biggest piece of it all is that you get that you don’t get it. You’re not dealing with the emotions that you feel when you see something online that you don’t like. If someone attacks you or attacks me or trolls us, we’re adults. We have the ability to disconnect. We have the ability to look the other way and say, ‘Hmm, I kind of feel sorry for that person.’

That’s not what happens when people are messing with our children online. When people harass and bully our children, they don’t have that ability to disconnect or to say, ‘Oh, it’s just Facebook. It’s just Snapchat. It’s just whatever.’

You and I can do that. They cannot. These devices, the social media profiles, the game profiles, they’re just as much a part of them is anything that we have as part of us, our hair, our clothes, they mean so much more to our children than they mean to us.

We have to put ourselves in their shoes and come at it from their perspective. We can’t think, ‘Oh, I’m on Facebook, so I get social media and everything that comes with it.’

Sorry, Mom. Sorry, Dad. That’s not how it works. They’re not coming at this from the same place that we are.

That’s why every conversation we have with our children has to be rooted in digital empathy. The understanding that these devices and technologies mean something completely different to our children than they do to us.

If we can remember that when we start these conversations, we have a much greater chance of them going well, versus our children shutting down and shutting us out.

That’s what can happen when we approach something without digital empathy. We can drive them underground and lose that connection and the ability to have meaningful conversations with our children about their digital lives.

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