Volume 30 Issue 37 03 Dec 2021 29 Kislev 5782

Online friendship

Carrie Thomas – Acting Deputy Head of Primary

I recently read an article written by Dana Kerford on the URSTRONG blog titled ‘How to Support Kids with Friendship Issues Online’. The article begins by highlighting the significant changes in friendships over the past few years. The pandemic and lockdowns have shifted communication online for most of us, including children. When considering children, they have not only been using technology to learn but have increasingly used digital forms to connect and interact with their friends. 

The URSTRONG article acknowledges that guiding children to foster healthy friendships through video games, social media platforms and their Zoom classes is a whole new territory in the field of friendship. Helping children navigate friendships online is complicated, and it can be daunting to stay informed of the current trends and technologies. 

To support your child’s development of successful online friendships, you may like to consider the following advice provided by Dana Kerford: 

  • Be the student. Kids are the gatekeepers to this new world. They’re the ones who are teaching us what’s going on, how other kids are engaging online, what new features and platforms exist, and what’s happening. Ask questions so that you can learn and better understand their online world. To keep the lines of communication open, follow Walt Whitman’s advice: “Be curious, not judgmental.” (You can also learn a lot from Common Sense Media)

In addition to the advice provided above, the eSafetyComissioner website offers a wealth of guidance around the use of popular apps and websites for parents/ carers. The eSafety guide available at this site is a great way to learn about the latest games, apps and social media platforms that your child may be using. 

  • Understand the science of consequences. Kids often do not report friendship issues online because they’re worried parents or teachers will take their devices away or make them delete the app/game/platform. We need to remember that a child who has sought help and support has done the right thing. When you take their device away or ban them from TikTok or SnapChat or Among Us, you have given them a negative consequence – which feels like a punishment. This means they are less likely to open up to you again because you’ve taken something they love away.

  • Involve them in the plan. Our job, as grown-ups, is to protect children. There are no doubt times when the issue that’s been presented requires adult intervention. Ensure that your child is aware of the action that you’re taking. They will, inevitably, feel very nervous and worry that this will make matters worse. Talk it through with them. 

  • Be their safe place to land. It’s scary for a child to see or hear things that are not meant for a young person’s eyes and ears. And, it’s heartbreaking when their friends are rude or unkind. Whether it’s issues with friends online or inappropriate videos or language, be that safe place they can go to when they feel scared or unsettled. 

  • Be aware of your own negativity bias. Our brains are wired to look for what’s wrong. As described by Dr Martin Seligman, this is a protective instinct that goes back to the caveman days – we seek to protect our family. As parents, that protective instinct is strong and can lead to extreme reactions. Try to stay calm and consider the many ways the message could be misinterpreted. When it comes to the online world, non-verbal communication (representing 93% of how we understand each other) is non-existent – and misinterpretations happen all the time.

  • Remember, these are children. Sometimes parents forget that the person on the end of the device is a child – someone who is still learning and makes mistakes. A child texting, “Stop calling me!” is a child who hasn’t yet learned how to kindly decline. Give them the benefit of the doubt and show the same kindness and compassion you’d hope other parents show your child when they forget their manners.

Whether online or face-to-face it is important that we empower children to navigate friendships and equip them with the skills necessary to manage any conflicts that may arise. As we move towards the summer break, I encourage everyone to take a break from their screens, step outside and breathe in the delights of all that surrounds us.

However, supporting and educating children to develop positive online relationships is fundamental in the modern world and should remain an ongoing focus for us all and should remain an ongoing topic of discussion at school and at home.