Safety and Positivity Online
If you are parenting in the age of technology - which of course, if you are a parent in 2021 you are - you have surely received more than your fair share of tips on how to lessen the negative effects of technology. In fact, you are likely to have received some of them from me;)
Even so, one thing I find to be absolutely vital in the conversation on digital wellness and healthy technology habits is: balance. And balance means that we don't only look at the negative, but the positive side too.
This perspective-shift is necessary if we are ever going to find a way to help ourselves - and our children - find a way to happily coexist with the army of digital devices that [we] have populated our planet [with].
The quality of your life depends on what you focus on, it has been said, and while it is hard to overcome our negativity bias as well as our fears around the negative impact that excessive and uncontrolled technology use has on our minds and bodies, we can take a page out of the positive psychology book to help us make that transition.
The field of Positive Psychology turned one instrumental psychological question: "What is wrong with you" on its head and instead asked: "What are you doing right already?"
Psychologists who birthed the positive psychology movement in the 90s went rogue and decided to ask the one question that the fields of psychology, psychiatry and psychotherapy had never before asked: "What is right with people?" A glass half-full perspective for sure, and one that very intentionally moved the focus away from weakness and onto our character strengths. The result? The positive psychology field, which is now rich with deep insights into resilience, grit, the growth mindset and self-compassion, to name a few. It has provided us with tools for living life with more positivity, meaning and connection.
So, can we adopt that same approach and intentionally seek out what is right with technology? What does it mean to be digitally resilient and what does it look like to use technology in positive and constructive ways that involve respect, empathy, thoughtfulness and [self]compassion? What would it be like if we felt safe online? And what can the youth teach us about all of this?
"Being Digitally Well means using technology mindfully, intentionally and humanely in such a way, that it doesn't tarnish your psychological and emotional well-being or the psychological and emotional well-being of others." Teodora Pavkovic
We have some data from The Royal Society for Public Health in the UK already, suggesting that the older segment of the Gen Z population (14 to 24 year-olds) derives a lot of positivity from Twitter and Instagram when it comes to their self-expression and self-identity specifically. We also know - even without looking at the numbers - that during Covid, both children and adults (although children especially) have relied on gaming, social media platforms and texting apps to keep them socially connected and feeling like they still belong to their 'tribe,' even though they can barely remember what their tribe's voices sound like anymore (channeling some teen drama here for the full effect).
What is especially encouraging, is that even if teenagers' social media use is problematic - which, let's be honest, it often is - there is plenty of room for repair and a re-evaluation of the purpose behind that use. The women-focused non-profit The Female Lead, together with Cambridge University, conducted a study in 2019 into shifting young women's relationship with social media. In their own words, the organization "explored changing what teens consume on social media, rather than restricting it," and found that by just encouraging teenage girls to follow more positive and inspirational public figures, they were able to completely shift how they felt about themselves and the world around them.
And how about us adults, how can we engage in more mindful, purposeful and positive digital consumption and creation? It is all about the choices we make on a daily basis, choices around when to pick up the device and when to put it down, when to open up which app and why, and how to show up for both ourselves and others in that virtual space. We don't necessarily need an app in order to help us do this - in fact, I always encourage people to use the power of their own brain instead - but if you are searching for a virtual space that encourages empathy, compassion and deep connection, I whole-heartedly recommend Daily Haloha, an app developed by my dear digital wellness colleague Amy Giddon. Daily Haloha encourages people to develop a daily habit of connecting to themselves and others in a deep and meaningful way, and is the epitome of mindful tech use, which I am a passionate proponent of. It embodies the very core of this effort, which is to seek out and create positivity online.
Tomorrow, on February 9th, is the 2021 Internet Safety Day. This year, I think there are a few particularly important things we need to keep in mind:
The wave of social media is by now too strong for us to pretend that it doesn't exist: it is estimated that as of January 2021, Tik Tok has 1 billion active users.
In the interest of maintaining the balance between the positive vs negative, we mustn't forget that all social media platforms have those dark alleys we don't want our children to go anywhere near of: the latest Bark.US safety report uncovered that Twitter in particular is the main destination for depression- and suicide-themed content.
For the time-being, most of us are continuing to fully rely on technology to work, learn and stay social.
On the other side of this reality is the fact that many children and their families are struggling during the pandemic (in part) because they don't have proper internet access or the digital tools with which to access it.
Keeping all of this in mind, the main takeaway I would like to offer you is that the digital world can be a great place for us to spend some time if we set the intention to show up as aware, mindful and respectful digital citizens.
When it comes to our children, we have to engage them in (continuous) conversations around what social media means to them and where they find that it helps them thrive vs stifles them. And then help them to amplify and share that positive affect.
And as for you - parents in the age of technology - there are certainly steps you yourselves can take to help your children navigate towards that safety and positivity. To share these with you, I will be going live on my Facebook page tomorrow on February 9th at 10:30am PST | 1:30pm EST, to mark Internet Safety Day and to share my Five Foundational Pillars that will help you protect your child's safety online. They are: Check the Ratings, Feed the Algos, Sharent Mindfully, Minimize Solitary Use and Connect and Communicate. I look forward to seeing you there!