Swimming upstream for respect

Has the smartphone and social media changed the dynamic of respect between parents and teens?

Thursday, 1st August, is International Respect for Parents Day, created in 1994 to encourage the appreciation of parents all over the world.

Although the celebratory day started before hand-held technology became ubiquitous, #RespectForParentsDay is more topical than ever, as the balance of power has shifted since the iPhone launched in 2007 and iPad in 2010.

“The goalposts moved. In the last decade or so, many kids became wiser than their parents in a specific area – technology. This gives them leverage on so many things – they know how to work around boundaries, hide private content and conversations, screen time limits, and most have access, and are exposed to, anything they might wish to find,” says Dean McCoubrey, Founder of MySociaLife, South Africa’s premier ‘Digital Life Skills Program’ in schools.

“Since these devices launched, there has been little guidance around digital life skills or ‘online values’. In our work with teens and tweens in schools, this increase in exposure has placed many parents on rocky ground without an updated tool kit to navigate this new world – tweenagers believe that they are better equipped to understand what’s unfolding in their generation, are empowered to argue decisions about what is potentially safe or dangerous, and expect more time and freedom in the (online) environment that they know better. It’s driving parents crazy!” he adds.

Ensuring safer smarter kids online is important so that they can excel online later

“At the same time, parents have become more dependent on technology as well – kids are reporting that their parents aren’t savvy or in control of their own device usage – so they can challenge their parents about their own lack of self-control. It’s hard to accept that times have changed. Kids have more answers and arguments through their online exposure and tech skills than ever before. One certainty is that life doesn’t work in a straight line – working together is a success factor in human relationships.”

“Ironically, the debate between parents and their kids is the starting point to educate them, the platform to stay calm, be clear, build bridges to understand this new world, clear up misunderstandings and cement boundaries. Consistency is key. Many parents are now using a smartphone agreement these days,” he says.

Parents to stay calm set clear boundaries and understand their new world

Regardless of how angry a parent may feel, MySociaLife offers a few tips:

  1. Lead by example. If parents treat others around them – from staff to colleagues and other family members – tweenagers will learn by example and are more likely to mirror and reciprocate. We are essentially sponges to human behaviour.
  2. Identify situations where your teens were on the receiving end of disrespect, and have an open discussion about how that made them feel. They’re likely to have more empathy for others – including their parents – going forward.
  3. Parents are often afraid they’ll alienate their teens by refusing to accept their unreasonable behaviour. But fortunately, boundaries remain essential irrespective of which generation you come from. Remember that children who don’t learn how to treat others respectfully when they’re younger may struggle to engage constructively in social and work environments later on. A smartphone and social media agreement will help with clarifying these boundaries.

For more information, contact mary-ann@mysocialife or call 021 419 3144.

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Dean McCoubrey

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