A faceless man in a hooded sweatshirt takes a selfie. Arguing on the internet: Social media habits and kids

Arguing on the Internet: What Your Social Media Habits are Teaching Your Kids

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By Angela Bergman

I’m having a difficult time with people on social media these days. Facebook and Twitter seem to be full of judgmental people who are angrily spouting off their reasons for believing in what—or who—they do, and if you don’t agree with them you’re clearly wrong, oh so wrong. You better not disagree with them or else they’ll do their best to make you look like an ignorant bigot.

Obviously, the election and inauguration of #45 have been front and center on social media this past year. But before that, and within the cracks of the most recent political kerfuffle, we have have found ways to judge women on their career choices and mothers on their decision to breastfeed or bottle feed; to give birth at home or in a hospital. The way we parent is always up for discussion—and by discussion, I mean criticism. No matter what we do, someone will be ready and willing to tell us we’re doing it wrong.

This isn’t exclusive to women or parents of course—no matter what we do and how we live, we will be the object of someone’s criticisms. And even though tolerance and anti-bullying is preached more today than ever before, people are going to continue to loudly, and often aggressively, proclaim their beliefs.

I wonder how this impacts our children. If your child went onto your favorite social media account and saw how you were behaving, how would you feel? Is the way you’re handling yourself the way you want them to handle themselves in school? If someone disagrees with what your child says, would you be proud if they modeled your behavior as they respond to the person who doesn’t believe what they do?

We forget that our cold, typed words can still hurt people while it conveys our passionate message. We forget that there is another human being with a beating heart reading the words we callously left behind.

The Most Important Lesson I Learned in University

During my University career, I had to take a statistics course in order to graduate with a Psychology major. The worst part of the course was the timing. I was in summer school and the course was available only in the evening. As much as I didn’t want to waste my summer evenings in school, it was a required credit. And although I hardly remember anything from it, there is one thing I learned that I hope to teach my children.

I call it 360 Thinking.

Anyone and everyone will always look for the stories that support their theories and beliefs. We naturally do this.

If I believe that Vitamin C will help me have fewer colds and illnesses, I will only search for and read articles that support my theory. If I believe that vaccines are good, I will only search for, read, and share stories on social media that say “Intelligent People Vaccinate!” If I believe in sleep training, I will tell everyone my stories of how sleep training worked for all of my children, perhaps failing to recognize that not every parent and child is the same.

This same phenomenon is also true in politics. No matter what political party or candidate you support, most people will only search for the good stories that support their idea that this party or this person is the best and deserves to win. Very few people will read the stories that put their party/candidate in a negative light. And no one in their right might would share a story or article that would make their candidate look bad!

But I argue that you should—well, do your full research anyway. If you want a 360 degree view of your choice—be it a party, a presidential candidate, a parenting viewpoint—you need to look at all sides of the story.

You’ve already searched for the stories that support your theory. Now open up your mind, drop your defenses, and look for the stories that don’t support your theory.

It’s not easy, but, as you do so, you will be cultivating a more balanced view of the world we live in. And dare I say it, you’ll look and sound a lot more intelligent if you are brave enough to engage in an online debate.

Teach Your Children 360 Thinking

When it comes to parenting, it’s important to always look at the other side of things. I might believe that every baby should be breastfed. However, I can recognize there are situations where it isn’t possible. Even though I firmly hold to my belief that breast is best, I can still gladly accept—not merely tolerate—women who bottle feed for one reason or another. Are there downsides to breastfeeding? Yes, it can be inconvenient at times, the learning curve is steep, and, if you knew my story of mastitis, you’d wonder how I could still feel this way.

And you need to have conversations like this with your kids. When your child asks, “Why do I need to go to school?” the best answer is not, “Because you’re supposed to.” Sit down with them and talk about all sides of the story. If you go to school, what do you think your future will look like? If you don’t finish school, what kind of job do you think you will be able to get? Do you think you would be happy working at a job like that—either with school or without—for the rest of your life?

When it comes to drugs, kids have heard “Don’t Do Drugs” a thousand times before they reach high school. But they need to know the full story. Most people do drugs to escape. What are they escaping? Let’s talk about that. Is there something in your life that you feel like you can’t handle? How can I help? What happens when someone gets addicted? Let’s talk about what an O.D. death might look like if it was your best friend who overdosed. Are there any benefits to doing drugs? I’d like to hear what you think.

Teaching our children to support the beliefs they have by only looking for supporting arguments will result in a child who is ill-informed and judgmental. We need to teach them how to look at an issue with a well-rounded, 360-degree-picture in mind. Our job is to show our child that each story has at least two sides and then help them learn how to have conversations that consider both of those sides.

When you fully understand an issue—the good, the bad, and the ugly—you can make an informed decision.

Knowledge is more than just power. Knowledge breeds compassion and that’s what I want to raise—a compassionate child who is slow to judge and quick to listen.

About the Author

Angela Bergman

Angela is a work at home mom who manages the well-being of her five children, ages 8 through 15. She’s been married for 18 years to a small business owner who has owned a sports card shop for four years. In her spare time, she fosters puppies for a local animal rescue, walks her own two dogs, writes fiction, and offers fitness consultations to women who are pregnant and postpartum, and anyone who wants to work out at home.

Featured image by Tom Sodoge via Unsplash.

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