From my experience working with youth over the last ten years, one common trend that I continue to notice with conflict and behavior is how peer pressure impacts the way students think, feel, and react during situations.
Recently I dealt with the fallout from two separate incidents in the same week involving elementary students who fought in school while others filmed and shared videos from the fights. While fighting in school is not uncommon, the manner in which fights start and spread now is complicated with phones and social media.
School teachers and administrators are now tasked with responding to student conflicts that originated outside of school in group texts and social media posts.
When one of the former students at my school moved on to middle school, his mother reached back out to me a couple of months later and shared that he was having a difficult time. He was involved in a fight that was recorded and shared on social media. His mother was very upset, requested meetings with school administrators, and considered moving her son to another location. During a digital workshop with MySelf Builder, we discussed what led to the fight, the impact that the video recording was having, and strategies he could use to avoid falling into similar conflicts in the future.
So what else can parents do to help their children?
Block the Noise: Encourage your child to use “Do Not Disturb” mode, to silence notifications, or to even try turning their phone completely off sometimes when they are at home. Being consumed by what others are posting and reacting to can be exhausting. Some students even fear that not responding to social conflict will make them seem scared. This is a trap. Ask your child if there was fire, would they move towards it or away from it? If they smelled smoke, would they stay and inhale it or open a window and call for help? Social conflict works the same way. In situations that can escalate and lead to violence or more drama, it’s okay to say, “I don’t want the smoke” (phrase for avoiding conflict).
Refine the Purpose: Most families would say that their child has a phone in case they need to be reached for an emergency. While phones are important for emergency situations, how often does your child use their phone for an actual emergency? First aid kits and fire extinguishers are used for emergencies too, but how often do we carry those around with us? Work with your child to set similar boundaries with their phone as they would with other emergency tools: Know where it is, know when to access it, and know how to use it appropriately.
T.H.I.N.K About It: Arrange opportunities for your child to meet in-person with peers. We know that too much screen time for children can lead to negative effects including weight gain, sleep problems and poor school performance. When meeting in-person is not an option, there are some resources including children’s books and websites that offer support tips for healthy social interactions. Online image searches for the ‘THINK Method” will provide visuals of a helpful communication tool for students, asking them to consider the following before saying or posting something:
Is it True?
Is it Helpful?
Is it Inspiring?
Is it Necessary?
Is it Kind?
Families can also model behaviors that encourage limiting cell phone use by saying, “Let’s all put our phones away and eat dinner, play a game, or watch a movie together.”
Know Your Phone Identity: Remind your child that what they like, post, and share reflects who they are. Just as we leave footprints in the mud and snow, we also leave a trail from the activity usage on our phones and the internet, called a digital footprint. Words that are typed in messaging apps and posts should be considered the same as if they are spoken out loud. Inform your child that anything that is recorded on a phone can be retrieved, even after it’s been deleted. As long as phones are attached to our hands and hips and associated as a part of our identity, then they’ll serve as an extension of who we are and influence what we do.
Parenting and monitoring your child’s online and social behavior can be challenging. However, providing students with the tools, awareness, and opportunities to think independently, focus on their future goals, and to use their phones responsibly are all positive steps towards motivating them to become the best version of themselves.