thoughtful girl

by Guest Blogger Doug Hutchcraft

Another day, another news story that ends tragically for a bullied young person.

This time, her name was Carolina Picchio. An attractive, outgoing 14-year-old Italian girl that made the mistake of posting a video of herself on Facebook where she was drunk. Her ex-boyfriend and “friends” used social media to ridicule, demean, and bully her. Soon after, Carolina took her own life…but not before crying for help multiple times on her Facebook page.

It’s no secret that the online worlds of Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter are a way of life for today’s student-age young people. For many of them, it also acts as their “confessional”. Everything from favorite movies to parental frustrations, sexual decisions and suicidal thoughts, are laid bare and broadcast to the world.

Being able to vent to “friends” can be a good thing. But where social media as confessional can go off the rails is when those friends they’re unloading their problems to don’t have any more answers than they do.  Or perhaps even worse…in reality, no one is really listening.

That’s why I think a lot about whether I’m the kind of dad my kids can come and feel safe when they need to vent. I want my kids to feel safe when they approach me with their struggles. If they think confessing their struggle to my wife or me will result in them being ridiculed or yelled at, the chances are good they’ll eventually replace looking for answers from their parents to looking for answers on their computer.

Here are three things to keep in mind when you’re trying to communicate with your 11-18 year old.

1) When your child comes to you with their problem, listen first! The older they get, the more important your listening skills become. Don’t interrupt them with the “answer”, even if you already know what they’re going to say.

2) Share your own struggles in whatever areas they are struggling. Help them understand you were 13 once too. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how quickly your child will open up when they realize you aren’t perfect.

3) When the timing is right, offer some lovingly delivered advice. Typically the kind of advice that they will hear is not delivered at high decibel rates, and not delivered in angry or condescending tones.

If your parental instincts are telling you your child is disappearing into social media and online communication, you’re probably right. The best way to address that reality isn’t simply telling them to communicate in that way less, but rather being the kind of trusted parent they feel they can confess to more.