Meaningful Connections Online
For the next Mom in the Middle column, I’m taking a look at social media. Specifically, how our kids use it and how we as parents can and should be involved. I won’t spoil what I’ve found out in talking to my children and their friends, but let’s just say that it isn’t all bullying and narcissism out there, as some of us fear. Social media is often used to create meaningful connections, strengthen the bonds of friendship, and provide an avenue for communication that would not be possible without it. Even among teenagers. I’m not trying to deny the dangers that lurk online (for kids and well as adults), but after talking to a bunch of kids ages 11 – 15, I felt much better about the time my kids spend on platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and Youtube. Not only are they undeniably more literate when it comes to the technology, but they are more comfortable in many ways, which often results in more genuine and affirmative interactions.
So for my 21 Day Challenge, I’ve decided to keep the positive vibe going and try to forge a meaningful connection online via social media everyday for three weeks. This will take different forms and I’m sure have varying effects, but it will be my goal to reach out in some way to a person or organization via one of the many social media platforms to say or do something positive.
I started yesterday by leaving a post on author Ellen Byron’s Facebook page telling her how much I am enjoying her book. I don’t know this woman, and normally I’d be too shy or embarrassed to reach out to a well-known writer. (She wrote for popular TV shows like Wings, Just Shoot Me, and Still Standing – plus she served on the Editorial board for the UCLA Writer’s Program.) But I decided to put all that aside, and just wrote her a little note to let her know that I’m loving her book PLANTATION SHUDDERS and don’t want it to end.
And do you know what? She messaged me right back through Facebook with this incredibly kind note: “Jill, your comment made my day!” She even offered to send me some book swag! I was so surprised – and so happy. I didn’t really think my comment would make her day – after all, who am I? But it did. It made me feel good; it made her feel good. I’d call that a social media win-win!
My challenge was to find a way to connect in a meaningful and positive way via social media everyday for 21 days. I have never thought of myself as someone who is super plugged-in to social media, aside from checking Facebook while I’m waiting in the pick up line at school, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to push myself further into that world. It is where my kids spend a lot of their time, after all. And there is so much in the news about how social media can be used to hurt, bully, and harass people, that I wanted to counter that by searching out ways to interact in a positive way online.
As I set my intention to look for a meaningful connection each day, I realized a couple of things. First, I am far more connected online than I ever realized. I spend a portion of each day not only checking Facebook to see what my friends are up to, but I check in with Twitter, Goodreads, and at least three private social media groups of which I am a member. I always look to see what my kids have posted on Instagram, and while I’m on there, I inevitably see some cute picture of my best friend from 6th grade’s new puppy, or my former co-worker’s adorable kids. I like and/or comment without thinking about it. And my comments are pretty much always positive. Because that is what I am like in real life. I have, as one friend tells me, “a deep and abiding optimism” and therefore that is how I interact with the world, virtual or actual. If someone posts a picture of their latest fabulous vacation with their toes in the ocean while I’m stuck cleaning out my garage in the 100 degree heat, I don’t feel jealous or begrudge them their opportunity to show the world what a lovely time they’re having. Or when a friend posts a political opinion that I disagree with, I don’t immediately unfriend them or write a nasty comment – I remind myself how fortunate we are to live in a society where we can all freely express our opinions. That is not to say I don’t get annoyed with some of people’s online antics. When a woman I went to college with posted a picture of herself in her bikini “from college- circa 1993 #stillfits” I will admit that I was like, “Okay. We’re done here.” And I blocked her. I simply cannot be friends (or even “friends”) with someone who would do such a thing. #thatsnotokay
Which brings me to my ultimate conclusion after this 21 day challenge: Just as I wrote in my upcoming piece for COMO Living, I think how you interact on social media generally reflects how you interact in real life. The rules are the same: Mean is mean; supportive is supportive; and annoying bikini brags are annoying bikini brags. Despite the perception of social media anonymity, the stuff you post online tells the world who you are and you will reap what you sow. (Just ask Anthony Weiner.) It’s like the PSAs tell us: If you wouldn’t do or say something in person, don’t do or say it online. And on the other end of the spectrum – the good end – the things that solidify strong relationships in the real world, solidify them online: gratitude, honesty, positivity, supportiveness, and kindness. Odds are if you are the sort of person who looks to foster relationships with those kinds of values in your in-person communications, you are going to bring that same energy to your online world. I have enjoyed looking for ways to be positive on social media and won’t stop just because the 21 days are over. Interacting online is, as I’ve discovered, a part of the constellation of my life now – and I will do my best to bring good juju into that realm. Given my deep and abiding optimism, it shouldn’t be such a challenge.