How to Talk to Your Kids about Essena O’Neil

EssenaOneilYou’ve likely heard by now of Essena O’Neill and her recent transition to post more honest content on her social media accounts. The GOV team has been speaking to a lot of youth in Singapore lately, and we have even started including some pieces of Essena’s story in our sessions about social media. If you’re a parent wondering if this would be a good story to share with your tween or teen, here are a few thoughts to help you form a conversation:

1. Even social media can be staged – Often we expect advertisers to use things like photoshop, perfect lighting, etc. to make their models look stunning. We realize this and we’re prepared for it. But it’s harder to wrap our minds around social media that’s been altered. Think about it – when you take a selfie, do you adjust the angle at which you’re holding your phone so you look better? We all do. But we don’t always stop and think that maybe our friend has 11 other shots on her camera roll that are not as flattering as the one she just posted. We often scroll quickly through our feeds, see how great everyone looks, and never stop to wonder why we all of the sudden feel so fat and ugly. What I appreciate about Essena O’Neill is she explains some of the tricks she used to get the images she posted, thereby exposing the fact that social media is not always as spontaneous and natural as we assume it is.

2. There’s no such thing as a free meal – This is a true statement, even in social media. If you look at a picture of a celebrity/friend and think more about the clothing he or she is wearing, the thing being eaten, the makeup used, etc., that person might have been paid to take that picture. In Essena’s opinion, this is fine in and of itself, as long as the person tells you he or she is advertising something. I think this is good food for thought when you talk to your kids. No one wants to be deceived, and kids especially need to know when their emotions are being manipulated to make someone else money. That’s only fair.

3. You are responsible for the content you post and share – One thing I appreciate about Essena is that she realizes she is responsible for the effect her posts have on other people. And because she realizes this, she wants to start posting honest things. Kids need to know that even if they are just sharing something created by another person, they are still responsible (at least on a small scale) for the effect that post will have on their friends. Which gives them incentive to share positive things instead of negative things. I am friends with a lot of people who are younger than me on my social media networks (the consequence of speaking to so many youth over several years!). I’m really careful about what I post because I don’t want them to see something I share and get the wrong impression. Here’s a practical example: I live in Colorado. The sheer amount of funny memes that have circulated over the past few years about legalizing marijuana are enough to choke an elephant. I think some of them are really funny, but I don’t think smoking marijuana is a good idea. Hence, I haven’t shared any of the marijuana memes. I just don’t want to risk it being taken the wrong way.

The bottom line when guiding your tweens and teens toward healthy social media use is to communicate that social media is what we make it. We can be honest in the things we post, we can consider others before we post, and we can choose what to view. There are several advantages to social media. However, if we don’t discern the messages coming at us (whether they be from a friend or acquaintance or even an advertisement), we are in danger of allowing social media to have more control over us than we do it.

One guideline we like to share when speaking to youth about social media is T.H.I.N.K. before you post. Ask yourself: “Is what I’m about to post
T rue
H elpful
I nspiring
N ecessary
K ind
?”

It’s a good rule of thumb for anyone – adults included!

– Megan Briggs

Megan joined the Generations of Virtue team to become the Product Manager, a position which keeps her busy researching, reading resources, managing inventory and speaking to young people.

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4 Steps To Equip Your Tween Against Bullying

EquipTweenBullying

Recently our team conducted a session for 11-14 year olds and spent a section specifically addressing online bullying. Unfortunately this issue has become even more rampant since the wave of seemingly “consequentless anonymizers” like Snapchat have taken center stage.

In today’s anonymous world youth are encouraged to dissociate themselves with negative behavior and instead cling to their anonymous label that grants them access to the “waves of culture”. Instead of strength of character we see a growing epidemic of mean behavior amongst those that should be brothers and sisters. We’d like to share a few practical steps you can share with your tween to help them in bullying situations.

Step In

Oftentimes adults are somewhat in the dark about how prevalent this issue is in their tween or teen’s world. Step one to combat this is to step in to their world. The easiest way into the world of tweens is by connecting with your child in familiar non-threatening conversations. These conversations can be started with simple questions like “Who is your favorite person at school?” or “Who is the most popular?” Make an effort as these conversations progress to take note of your child’s reactions and responses. Even jot down the names they mention on your phone. It will mean a lot to your child when you are able to follow up and ask how their peers are by name and not just description.

Parents’ reactions to difficult situations will shape the way our kids relate their world to us. Kids often feel that they exist within two or more “worlds” and do their best to maintain a positive atmosphere in all of them. There is the school world, home world, and various game or online worlds that add to this. As a parent you need to be willing to step out into their other worlds. That may mean sitting in on a gaming session, asking for a tour of their Facebook or WhatsApp, or visiting them for lunch at school (if appropriate). Do whatever you need to in order to better understand where they live day to day.

Step Back

Try to always remember the old saying “hurt people hurt people”. It seems simple enough, but it is imperative to remember that the one hurting others is usually trying to cover their own wounds. By jumping into a situation too quickly you can re-victimize the participants and thus get yourself excommunicated from their world quite quickly. Remember to keep your cool in these situations and make a concentrated effort to examine the situation from an unbiased perspective. Lastly, be sure to involve leadership that knows both parties well in the conflict resolution stage.

Step Up

Tweens especially are in a time of transition. Amongst their peers many social roles are established simply by who is willing to step up. Encourage your children in leadership roles that compliment their personality. One of the slogans we use with the teens is “Don’t be afraid – be a friend”. This may be a good memory verse to share with your child if they find themselves involved in a bullying situation where they need to step up:

Deuteronomy 31:6 ESV

“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”

Step Over (not on)

Once I saw a video on a nature channel about a mother bear and her cubs. I vividly remember the look in the mother’s eyes and body language when she realized the camera crew was stepping closer to her cubs. She had been grazing behind them comfortably, but seeing the possible danger she moved to step over her cubs and re-situate herself between them and the camera man. If you notice your child is the target of bullies, don’t be afraid to step between them and the bully to bring balance and protection to the situation.

“Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

This definition by Albert Einstein of insanity could easily be applied in this arena as well. We cannot continue moving in the same direction and stay in the same patterns but expect things to change. Sit down with your spouse and then with your tween and figure out as a team what steps you all need to take regarding your specific situation. Step one should always be to our knees in prayer as we seek first the Kingdom.

-Courtney Alberson

Courtney is Generation of Virtue’s lead solutions specialist. Which is a fancy way of saying she handles the team’s many IT needs and spends a lot of time in Photoshop. When she’s not finding solutions to problems, Courtney enjoys communicating God’s truth about love and relationships to teenagers and…drinking coffee.

 

 

4 Things to Keep Your Teen Safe during Party Season

4keys_teensPartying

When I was a teenager, my parents told me “It’s not that we don’t trust you, it’s that we don’t trust everyone else” whenever they put some kind of curfew or driving moratorium on me. This happened like clockwork on certain nights of the year: New Year’s, 4th of July, Christmas Eve. They were serious about those curfews! They didn’t want me out on the road late on a public holiday. And with good reason: Drunk drivers usually owned the roads on those nights.

At the time, I felt their curfews and rules were lame. Really, really lame. But now that I am older, I see the love and care behind their rules and all their concern.

My parents were very strategic in talking to me about what I would be doing, how to respond in certain situations, and what to do if ever I found myself in trouble. In light of end-of-school-year-party-season, I’d like to share some of the conversation points to use as your own teenagers head off to parties or friends’ houses:

First, start with some questions:

  1. Where are you going? (It’s ok to ask for an address of a friend’s house, the name of the restaurant, etc. Have your teen tell you all the details.)
  2. When are you leaving and when do you plan on being back? (Obviously if you have set a curfew for the night, you will need to communicate this very clearly).
  3. How are you getting there and getting home? Will you be driving to different locations? If so, who will be driving? (This was my parents’ FAVORITE question. Sigh)
  4. Who is going to be with you?
  5. What will you be doing?
  6. Do you have any concerns about the evening?

Secondly, set some guidelines for how your teen can respond if a situation takes him/her by surprise. Some strategies to go over include:

  • What to do if alcohol is involved
  • What to do if you feel unsafe when someone else is driving
  • How to suggest different activities if the ones offered are inappropriate or make you feel uncomfortable
  • What to do if someone pushes your physical boundaries (This, hopefully, has been preceded by a discussion about what your teen’s physical boundaries are. If this discussion hasn’t taken place yet, Mom and Dad, there’s no time like the present.)
  • Have an escape plan (This is a good time to tell your son/daughter if they ever need you to come get them, you will.)

Thirdly, set some clear expectations about what you require your teen to do. You might consider the following (again, taking a cue from my parents):

  • I expect you to call or text me when you arrive at the party, letting me know you got there safely
  • Please communicate any change of plans with me
  • Please provide the mobile number of a friend or parent who will be with you, just in case something happens to your phone
  • Please send me an all’s well text a couple hours after you get there
  • Don’t be afraid to tell me something is wrong. I’d rather you call me over a false alarm than feel like you can’t call and get into a dangerous situation.
  • Let me know when you are on your way home

*I should note that my parents threatened to show up at the party if I failed to tell them I arrived safely, or if I didn’t send the all’s well text halfway through, etc. That threat alone helped me to remember all the steps!

Finally, pray for your teen before he or she heads off. Ask for God’s protection and for a really good, positive time. Remind your teens that sometimes situations come up where you have to be the “odd one out” and do something different than everyone else. It’s ok, really. They might feel ashamed or uncomfortable if they have to do something like that, but they’ll be glad they did later. Let your son or daughter know that you trust him/her to make the right decisions. Your confidence in your children will communicate a lot to them and could potentially give them the courage and motivation needed to make a good choice in a sticky situation.

– Megan Briggs

Megan joined the Generations of Virtue team to become the Product Manager, a position which keeps her busy researching, reading resources, managing inventory and speaking to young people.