Help­ing chil­dren to cope with neg­a­tiv­ity

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - STYLE - CARO­LINE KNORR

If you’re rear­ing chil­dren to­day, it can be easy to fo­cus on the neg­a­tive. And it’s no won­der. Thanks to the 24-hour news cy­cle, so­cial me­dia, cell­phone no­ti­fi­ca­tions — and even sources you wouldn’t ex­pect, like In­sta­gram and YouTube — chil­dren are im­mersed in doom and gloom.

Con­sider their world. The sui­cide rate is up, cy­ber­bul­ly­ing is ram­pant, the United States is more di­vided than ever, and peo­ple are now live-stream­ing mur­der and sui­cide. So it’s un­der­stand­able if you don’t feel like putting on a happy face ev­ery day and keep­ing your chil­dren op­ti­mistic about the fu­ture.

But don’t give up. Iron­i­cally, even though me­dia and tech­nol­ogy seem to be the cause of our col­lec­tive pes­simism, they’re also es­sen­tial for over­com­ing it, ei­ther by us­ing them wisely or know­ing when to put them away. Here are five ways to find the silver lin­ing in ev­ery cloud.

Put things in per­spec­tive When tragedy strikes some­where in the world, we re­live it ev­ery time we turn on the TV, open our so­cial me­dia, check our phone no­ti­fi­ca­tions or walk by a news­stand trum­pet­ing a sen­sa­tion­al­is­tic head­line. Par­ents un­der­stand that the me­dia am­pli­fies things for eye­balls and clicks. But chil­dren don’t nec­es­sar­ily get the re­la­tion­ships among sources, spon­sors and au­di­ence. How you re­spond to news makes a dif­fer­ence in how chil­dren process it, too. Help your chil­dren put things in per­spec­tive by ex­plain­ing that the loud­est voices cap­ture the most lis­ten­ers.

Talk about what you’re grate­ful for

Counter de­featist at­ti­tudes by nur­tur­ing your child’s char­ac­ter. Strong char­ac­ter grounds your chil­dren when the world feels chaotic. Take the time to share what you’re grate­ful for. En­cour­age them to per­se­vere against ob­sta­cles and to have com­pas­sion for oth­ers.

Research shows that ex­press­ing grat­i­tude ac­tu­ally makes peo­ple feel op­ti­mistic. Fight fake news

A lot of chil­dren say they can’t tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween what’s real and fake online. Con­fu­sion, doubt, lack of trust all get in the way of being op­ti­mistic. But chil­dren have the tools to fight fake news. They can use online fact-check­ing tools to dis­cover the truth (or at least un­cover the fraud). They can refuse to con­trib­ute to the spread of false in­for­ma­tion by not shar­ing stuff they can’t ver­ify. And they can call out du­bi­ous claims when they see them. Stand up to cy­ber­bul­lies Teach your child that the buck stops with them. When they see some­one get­ting bul­lied — and it hap­pens all the time in texts, on so­cial me­dia and in online games — they shouldn’t just stand by. While they should never do any­thing that would en­dan­ger them­selves, they can do a lot to as­sert their sup­port of oth­ers. They can call out cy­ber­bul­lies, re­port them, stand up for the vic­tim or just pri­vate-mes­sage the vic­tim and tell them some­one cares. It’s not tat­tling. It’s truly ev­ery­one’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to keep the in­ter­net a pos­i­tive, pro­duc­tive place.

Stand­ing up to cy­ber­bul­lies shows that you be­lieve you can make a change. Stamp out hate speech Online anonymity can have some un­in­tended con­se­quences. For ex­am­ple, peo­ple think they can spew hate­ful lan­guage or share in­sult­ing im­ages with­out fear of being dis­cov­ered. That may be, but hate speech is not a vic­tim­less of­fense. While in­sti­tu­tions are be­gin­ning to pun­ish those who spread abu­sive ma­te­rial, no one should wait un­til that hap­pens. Hate speech hurts peo­ple, con­trib­utes to an over­all neg­a­tive en­vi­ron­ment, and is some­times a cry for help from some­one in cri­sis. Ex­plain how to han­dle hate speech: Don’t re­spond to it, block peo­ple who do it, re­port of­fend­ers and don’t share it.

If your child can in­flu­ence only one per­son to knock off the neg­a­tive stuff, then they’ll in­flu­ence some­one else. Com­mon Sense Me­dia is a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion of­fer­ing rat­ings and ad­vice for fam­i­lies mak­ing me­dia and tech­nol­ogy choices. Check out its rat­ings and rec­om­men­da­tions at com­mon­sense.org.

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