Recently, I’ve noticed a trend from social media that is playing out in children’s friendships. As a therapist who facilitates group therapy to aid children in their friendships in the Washington DC area, I have noticed that personalities and stories from certain social media platforms—which are played out in short clips or longer episodes—-are creating social templates for children’s friendships. Social templates influence how the brain creates a mold or conceptualization for a situation. Because technology driven messages pack such a strong punch, parents and influential adults are having a hard time competing with YouTube videos other media-driven messages and personalities
Here’s an example for you, as a parent, to consider the impact of social templating. If your child were to watch a cartoon with an inviting but criticizing interaction it might look something like this.
- Character invites another character to play a game.
- They smile and play together.
- Character criticizes the other for being bad at the game and laughs.
- The other character says something similar back to them and laughs.
- They both laugh and keep on playing.
- They decide to quit the game because it’s boring and go get ice cream.
- They both each ice cream together, smile, and make plans to have fun together again the next day.
From this excerpt, a child may construct the following social template: If I invite someone to play a game, I need to say something critical to initiate laughter. If I’m funny by criticizing, then I will be fun, encourage others to smile, get to have ice cream with a new friend, and make friends.
If this works in the show, it must mean it will work in real life, right? This social templating applies to adults as well. It’s the reason why food commercials and gym membership commercials can be effective. If I eat this food with my family, we will all laugh and have fun while eating tacos. If I go to this gym, I will look like that person.
As rudimentary as this sounds, many kids are operating off of faulty social templates. Consider the movies and book series, Diary of the Wimpy Kid. As funny as these shows and books can be both for kids and their parents, they offer unhealthy examples of friendship and rude parent-child relationship scenarios. While sarcasm is entertaining, it does not invite healthy relationships nor does it encourage positive social scripts. While we don’t need to eradicate these influences completely, we do need to consider how this content is impacting their social interactions. As parents, try to pose questions with your children about whether or not the content that your child is consuming is making kindness uncool, is underrating patience, or depicting generosity as a waste of time socially. When sarcasm, criticism, or pranking become more appealing than being a benevolent friend or a solid social advocate, then it’s time to find a balance between the influence of media versus the value of parental influence.
Here are some starter questions/thought to consider:
- Is there adult humour in what your child is watching or reading? If so, consider that they might not get it, but may try to employ it anyway.
- Are there any morals or values in the stories that your child is exposed to (books, shows, etc)? If not, try to incorporate stories that teach virtues like patience, kindness, and generosity. Model this in your home and make it a point to notice when your child exhibits these virtues.
- Remember to love your child as they are, but try to raise your child to be the person that they will become.
- As a parent or loving adult trying to compete with social media influence, always know that humor is a great tool when used skillfully. It’s a trait that I believe is vital to raising resilient children.
- Don’t let your fear of social media influences dominate your good intentions. Try to correct negative messages with kindness and gratitude for time spent having fun with your child.