Teaching My Son The Value of Relationships in The Digital Age

Recently, I took a quick trip to my hometown of San Diego, CA, for some much needed rest and relaxation. If you’ve been following along at this year; even just at a minimal level, you’ve probably noticed this year has been pretty tough for me. That’s why this trip was so important; I needed to recharge. I needed to see friends and loved one face to face, or IRL (in real life) as we tend to say on social media.

While there, I had a couple of opportunities to video chat with my two monsters, and since I was staying with their uncles, they got a chance to see them too. While chatting with my son, he expressed his sadness over me being so far away, and told me about some issues at school, and how excited he was his grandmother was visiting to help out his mom while I was gone.

It was a normal conversation for me, but as soon as I hung up both my brothers expressed amazement, as well joy that my son expressed his feelings so easily, and clearly. I sometimes forget how amazing my son is when it comes to expressing his feelings; it’s something I admire in him, and dread for the future holds for him.

Whenever his mom and I talk about things he’s going through, or how his therapy sessions went; I can’t help but always follow up my praise for how he handles situations with, “The world is going to eat him alive when he gets older.”

I realize I’m not giving him enough credit, or faith; maybe it’s because of my own insecurities about how I handle relationships. Whatever the reason, I know my son is leaps and bounds ahead of me, especially at the age of 7yo. So here are a few things I’m practicing when it comes to raising a highly-sensitive kid in the digital age:

#1 – Don’t Be Like Me

Ok, I know that’s sounds harsh, and like I’m beating myself up, but I’m not…I promise. In the past; yes, I’ve said this in a self-deprecating way, due to my life-long battle of lack of self-worth. My son has witnessed a lot of the issues/baggage I carry around, and I never want that for him.

But what I’m referring to now, is the obsession in society; especially us online influencers, have with “being liked.” This blogging/social media influencing game has done more damage than good for me. Yes, the majority of that is on me; I own that. But as the years go by social media is only going to get bigger and more influential in how society defines value, and I don’t want my kids wrapped up in that kind of false validation.

#2 – Don’t Allow Anyone to Define You

Much like in adulthood; there is a hierarchy with kids. The stronger, more assertive kids tend to learn this very fast, and learn the subtle art of defining who’s cool and who’s not. We call it popularity, but what it really is, is simply the early stages of manipulation. And for quieter, more sensitive kids this can be where they get lost in the chasm of self-worth.

It starts out with simple things like who gets picked for which team or being picked last. Or, even when playing simple games at recess, and being made to play a certain role by more popular kid and going along with it so you don’t become the uncool kid. These are the types of things that we carry with us as we get older and tend to shape how we interact with other adults, or even in relationships.

To counter this behavior, I explain to my son that no one, not even me, gets to tell him who he is. I let him know that is his right, and his alone. I also let him know that it’s ok to speak his mind and if those kids refuse to listen, then they aren’t the kids he needs to play with.

#3 – Perfecting My Poker Face

As I explained in one of my previous post, I have a lot of Papa Bear in me. Even when the topic is not about my kids, I tend to wear my emotions on my face. This has been both a positive and a negative when trying to communicate with others.

Currently I’ve been working hard to not show so much emotion on my face. This is not because I’m trying to hide or suppress my emotions, but instead it’s about keeping lines of communication open with my kids, and not making them feel like I’m going to feel one way or another about topics they bring to me. The last thing I want to do is influence the level the communicate with me because I overreact or worry them. Think about it, If you over-react to a bee-sting when they are 6 years old, they’re definitely going to hide the dent in the car from you when they are 16.

#4 – Spot the Teachable Moments

As our kids get older, peer pressure will have a greater effect on the choices they make. And, since we were all kids once, we’re well aware many of those choices will not be the most desirable ones, and thus lead to our bread and butter as parents – the teachable moment. So, when you spot arises, make the most of it…especially when it comes to speaking with your kids on why they chose certain actions over another

  • Start your response with a validating statement:

Let your child know you’re truly listening. Let them know what they’re saying has value. Try something like, “I understand why you did that.” While we may not be happy with the choices our kids make; we can do our best to relate and meet them on an equal plain so they know we’re truly in this to make it better

  • Then go on to explain how you feel about their choices/actions:

Again, we’ve all been there before, but now it’s our turn to be parents. Start a statement with something like, “Maybe next time try…”

  • Finally, help them come up with the next step for resolutions:

Get them involved with resolution. Just because you’re helping and validating them, does not mean it’s up to us to clean up their messes. Say something like, “So, what do you think you could do to help everyone feel better?” This way your child knows it’s 100% their responsibility to make things right.

#5 – Don’t Let Them Discount the Positive:

This is one of the biggest areas of opportunity between my son and I; mainly because we are so much alike in this way. We both tend to dwell in the negative. The major difference is that I recognize that, and he doesn’t, because he’s too young to understand.

Humans are wired to remember the negative instead of the positive. Teach kids to consider another perspective. It’s not intuitive to think we lie to ourselves – kids definitely don’t think they do that. Sometimes they misinterpret feedback. For example, a lot of times when my son gets upset about the way someone treated him, or even when explain why I didn’t like something he did – he automatically thinks he’s a bad kid. To counter this, I play the “maybe game’ – maybe they were hungry, maybe they were in a bad mood, this helps them get outside their own head and consider the other possibilities.

Teach the Skills Now to Help Avoid Accidents Later:

These lessons are going are only going to get harder and harder as our kids get older. That’s why organizations like Responsibility.org and the #TalkEarly summit they invited me to last year, are so important. As you may, or may not know, this week is Red Ribbon Week; a week-long campaign dedicated annually to the prevention of alcohol, drugs and tobacco violence. Check out this page for awesome tips about talking with your kids about these topics, and more.

And finally, check this great video from the #TalkEarly summit I attended last year, featuring Phyllis L. Fagell is a licensed clinical professional counselor, certified professional school counselor and journalist. Her new book Middle School Matters was just released in August to rave reviews! You can find more information about it here.

I am a #TalkEarly ambassador for Responsibility.org. I have received compensation for my work, but all opinions are my own

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