“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”
– Maya Angelou
I stumbled across her writing when I read Why I’m Not Raising a ‘Good Girl.’
I felt connected to her words: “Maybe we can swap Be good with …
Take up space.
Ask for what you need.
Use your voice.
Louder and more than once if you need to.
These are words I use with my girls.
Feeling kindred, I wanted to dig deeper into her writing. I found Galit’s post on 12 Secrets Happily Married Women Know and quickly learned that she was attacked online because of her weight.
She wrote a helpful article about marriage, posted a couple pictures of her wedding, and suddenly became a victim of cyber bullying.
This experience, and her daughter’s desire to post on social media, prompted Galit Breen to write a guide on teaching kids how to be kind online.
In Kindness Wins, Galit walks the reader through ten online habits to teach and model. She strings together the practical guidelines with engaging real-life anecdotes and ends each chapter with a timely article to read and conversation starters for your kids and your friends.
My girls are not on social media yet – is the age 13? – but I know the time is on the horizon. Veronica asks to text her bestie and that’s the gateway, right?
In parenting – for better or for worse – we often pull from our history. I don’t know about you, but I got my first email account at my freshman (in college!) orientation. Growing up with social media is unfamiliar terrain to me.
But teaching is not. And I know it’s essential that our children are taught how to navigate social media to become savvy users. It’s up to me to find out what that looks like.
Galit offers a solid how-to in Kindness Wins.
Before I dive into her wise words, I’ll start with the universal phrases she mentioned:
Is it Necessary?
Is it Helpful?
It is Kind?
Those three questions are the cornerstones to online (and life) kindness. If it’s not one of those, then don’t post it … don’t even say it.
I have this threesome posted in my classroom’s whiteboard as a reminder to the kids to act accordingly. And to myself to model the desired behavior.
Be Kind. Be Kind. Kindness Starts with You.
Here’s what I pulled from Kindness Wins.
Just Know Better: Kids don’t. They just don’t. And we shouldn’t expect them to.
She states, “We need to directly teach our children the most vital lesson, rather than assume that they’ll understand.”
We can teach them to how to act kindly online. She says, “We wouldn’t give our kids one driving lesson, hand them the keys, and send them on their way with crossed finds and a ‘good luck.’ ”
As an adult, I know that if someone doesn’t “like” my post, it’s not a huge deal. But kids … well, they’re starting out, want to be “liked,” and don’t know that liking and not liking is often not about them.
Kids are not historically cool headed. They’re naturally immediate and emotional. Which is why they need guidance to create a …
Thoughts-to-Actions Filter: She says, “We need to teach them to take a breath before they post online, just like we teach them to take a breath before they talk back to us, a teacher, or a friend … We need to teach them that not every status needs to be commented on. That not every thought need to be shared. That not every event needs to be documented.”
Kids thrive on examples and mock scenarios. This is where we can chat about what to share and what not to share; how to comment and how not to comment. Let’s have direct conversations about what feels okay and what feels mean and why. Prep them. Give them the language and practice responses, so they have dialogue ready.
Who’s That? … What’s That On The Other Side: It’s important to remember that there’s someone – a human – receiving of our comments, our likes, and our silent don’t likes.
Social media lacks the social cues we know and rely on in person.
Teach them ask the question: Would I say this to her face?
She says, “Teaching kids that their online actions, words, and shares can have an impact on themselves breeds responsibility. But teaching them that their online choices may affect others encourages empathy, and therefore, kindness.” She suggests we sit down with our kids and share posts in our own feed and review our friends’ (their friends’) feeds.
It’s also the spot to remember what is yours and what is theirs to share. I had a moment recently when my oldest wrote me a note and the p.s. read: Do not post on Facebook, or blog, or Instagram.
It was a reality check for me. With those words, it dawned on me to ask Is it cool? before posting her picture and words on FB, Rudey’s Room, and Instagram.
Watch Dog: Instagram is in. Facebook is out. At least amongst the under 20 set. When I mentioned FB in passing to my 8th graders, they scoffed and were all, “Madame, only old people do Facebook. We’re on Instagram.” The landscape is changing, shifting. Tomorrow it’ll be something we haven’t dreamed up today. There’s beauty in this and there’s worry.
There’s social “like” and “tag” currency at play. I was surprised to learn about the games: Tag Who You Want Out,” #ratemeplease, Best Friends List, TBH (To Be Honest) comments, and Matchmaker, Matchmaker. This is the modern-day version of being picked first for kickball. Believe me when I say, I’m sensitive. I was always picked last.
Assume your kiddos are watching your activity and they should assume the same.
Just Keep Talking, Talking, Talking: It’s key to have open conversations with your kids about what they experience. Their friend left them out them, talk to them. Their hearts are hurting, talk to them. Their faces are full of frustration, talk to them. Find a special activity to share with your child that allows them to open up to you. My mother and I rollerbladed and biked together most days. My mother-in-law got her boys to dish on the golf course. This is when we can remind our kiddos that everyone has highlight and blooper reels. Through these conversations, we can remind them that the “Greener Grass Perception,” as Galit calls it, may feel very real, but it’s just that, a perception. Everyone has baggage.
She says, “I’ve started every single one of these sections with, ‘Sit down with your kids …’ That was on purpose. We absolutely cannot hand our kids phones and Instagram passwords and tell them to go to town, patting ourselves on the back for a milestone met.”
Just keep talking.
And start early, before they have their own social media accounts. She says, “When our kids reach a certain age, the amount of value they give our opinions teeters lower, while the value they give their peers’ opinions edges higher. Why not open the conversation while we’re still on the high end of things?”
I’ll end this post with a kindness word party:
model openness, have a thought filter, be the change, ask questions, maneuver deftly, think-before-you-post, be accountable, teach, start a dialogue, raise awareness, flip the conversation, be surprised by bullying, standup, expect kindness.
Just remember, “anonymity isn’t an excuse to do harm. Not ever.”
If you have or work with children, I highly recommend reading Kindness Wins.
P.S.: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.