About five years ago, the Cyber Bullying Research Center (Sameer Hinduja and Justin Patchin) surveyed middle school students asking them if there was a difference between their cyber world and their real world. About 50% said there was. In more recent surveys, the majority of adolescents have indicated there is no difference. Their cyber life “is” their real life.
What follows makes perfect sense. Children’s cyber worth is extremely important to them. We know that young people post on certain days at certain times, when they know their chance of receiving more likes, shares, etc. is more likely. When posts don’t receive the desired number of responses, children will often take down the post, image, etc. Also, young people will photo shop or edit their images to make them look more attractive or appealing.
As a Marriage & Family Therapist, what concerns me is that children’s cyber worth is artificial and fleeting, and it is being determined 24/7 by external sources of influence and measurement. Every emerging generation wants to belong and to “fit in”, but the pressure to maintain a multi-social networking presence and to sustain a large flow of validation and affirmation is causing significant levels of anxiety, stress, and depression among our young people.
When I am working with families or with individuals, I stress the importance of developing sources of worth such as honesty, integrity, loyalty, kindness, friendship, etc. Children feel empowered as they begin to define their sources of real worth and experience their longevity as well as their legitimacy.
In creating healthy shifts with our children, parents should not negate the importance of their children’s cyber worth, but instead, slowly introduce or re-introduce authentic lasting sources or worth and explain their value.