We have entered a new season in our culture. In fact, it’s not a season, because it’s always. Not a day passes that there aren’t thousands of headlines that are written for the express purpose of polarizing people. Click-bait, crazy-train, electronic Pitocin, call it what you want – the Internet is full of things that could make you upset.
Topics vary, from big cultural issues like the refugee crisis to topics as “every day” as whether or not kids should eat goldfish crackers. Cincinnati is interesting, because moms here tend to be pretty even-keel. We don’t see a lot of heated discussion on our site, usually, but in the last couple of months we’ve had a few posts that triggered some intense reactions (and we don’t even write about vaccines!) and I was flabbergasted by the extreme responses. Occasionally we post things that some people won’t agree with (in fact, we probably often post things someone doesn’t agree with, but not everyone handles it like a grown up). Speaking for myself, I actually like to know other people’s perspectives. I like to be asked to consider my own parenting choices and their impact long term. I like that people don’t always agree with everything I say, because agreeing isn’t the point for me. Considering, thinking, weighing, processing, asking questions, researching, and learning so that I can be intentional in my choices – is the point.
So, how can we set an example for our kids about how to exist in a world that seems to be forcing us to pick a side, a world where you identify as PRO or ANTI almost everything, and where a Starbucks cup can break the Internet? For those interested in joining me on my crusade for decency and generally adult behavior (read: mature, non-name-calling, well-researched, respectful conversation), here are a few considerations:
If you see a headline that makes your blood pressure peak, KEEP SCROLLING. You see, there’s this thing called self-awareness (that means, you know yourself and you know the topics that increase your heart rate) and its sister self-control (that’s the power you have to choose to do (or not), say (or not), etc.). These two “selfs” are your best friends on the Internet, and in life. Find them, use them. Associated skill we’re teaching our kids: discernment.
If you have “friends” (a term I use lightly) who repeatedly post inciting content, extreme perspectives, dramatic headlines, etc. UNFOLLOW THEM. You can do it. It’s two clicks that you’ll thank me for. People who are unreasonable attract other people who are unreasonable. Grab hands with self-control and walk away. Associated skill: wisdom.
Check sources. There are entire sites devoted to peddling extreme ideas. These are not reputable places for news (or anything, except finding other hot-heads to hang out with, if that’s your thing). Just so you know, anyone can say anything and get millions of people to fall for it as truth – happens every day. Don’t be a sucker. Associated skill: research.
Educate yourself on the concept of nuance. When we writers write, we don’t intend for people to take everything we say literally. My experience differs from yours, and my tone does as well. For me, life is better in color – LOTS of it. Glorious, tonal, six different shades of plum kind of color. That doesn’t mean I won’t have favorites, or particular colors that I love in particular seasons of my life, but they probably won’t be the same as yours. So if you don’t like my particular shade of purple, or if you don’t like my tone, or my writing, see #1 above. It’s that easy. We may just meet again someday. Associated skill: goodness.
And a few Internet behaviors that might get you the side-eye from reasonable adults:
Don’t comment unless you read the whole post. Just don’t. You WILL make a fool of yourself, or at the very least expose yourself as one of those people who comment without reading. This is not what we need to be teaching our children, friends. Interjecting thoughtfully in a conversation is one thing. Yelling at strangers on the street simply based on what you think you see happening over there is a completely different ball game of bad form. Do better. Associated skill: diligence.
Don’t extrapolate the future of mankind over one idea. Let’s say someone makes the choice to delay television watching in their home. This does not warrant an assumptive statement about how they are protecting their kid from “EVERYTHING” and their kid will “never survive the REAL world”. For all you know they are letting their two-year-old climb the refrigerator in the background so he can “learn for himself” while he doesn’t watch TV. My point is, you just don’t know. We each choose certain battles for certain reasons, and one choice does not make a child – nor does it make a parent (thank goodness!). Associated skill: grace.
Don’t say something on the Internet that you wouldn’t say in person. Grab that sweet friend self-control and ask her to duct-tape your fingers. I mean, seriously. The things people comment sometimes are so rude, and so immature that I often check to see how old I think the person actually is (sadly, they are always adults, not the 12 year-old mean girls I expect them to be). The Internet has an unbelievable memory – don’t forget it. Associated skill: self-control.
Don’t comment without thinking. I can’t believe I’m even typing this, but the fact of the matter is, our fingers sometimes work faster than our brain, and it’s a shame. There are people on the other side of those posts, with houses and bills and sick kids and aging parents and all manner of things that you may know nothing (or something about). They are human beings, as are you. Act like it. Associated skill: patience.
With the world at our fingertips, it seems that we’re almost so overwhelmed with information that we’ve forgotten how to ask questions, how to think things through, how to research, and how to learn in general. It’s like we’ve forgotten how to disagree, but I don’t think it’s because we actually forgot, I think it’s because we forgot how to form a real opinion in the first place.
The thing is, we need opinions. We need things that are valuable to us, and we need mechanisms to manifest those in our lives. Wherever our values fall on the spectrum, the fact is that we are going to disagree, and we have to teach our kids how to do so. We have to teach them to do it wisely, in a way that humanizes the other person and values their experience (which is likely what we need to understand to know what led them to their opinion in the first place). We have to help them learn how to stop, think and choose (Daniel Tiger anyone?!), how to be emotionally intelligent, self-aware, and acknowledge the power they have in their own self-control. If we aren’t doing these things ourselves, there’s no way they are learning them, and our behavior online creeps offline – I guarantee it. Our kids are mirrors friends – they reflect what stands in front of them.