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Consultant Returns to Help Parents and Students Navigate Social Media

Dr. Walsh, a Social Media and Education Consultant and Lecturer in Sociology at Boston University, will meet with Middle School parents on Tuesday, January 30
Dana Hall’s Health & Wellness Committee welcomes back Dr. Walsh, who has previously led workshops for Dana parents, worked with Dana’s Peer Education program, presented at a Health and Wellness X-Block, collaborated on the 21st Century Athena's Project and participated Dana’s Forum series. Dr. Walsh received a BA from Harvard University and a master’s degree from Brown University. Her interests include adolescent development, social media, health and gender.
We caught up with Dr. Walsh over the phone to learn more about her experience helping families navigate the social media world.
What are the biggest challenges you see both parents and students face when dealing with social media?
The biggest challenge I see, with both parents and their children, is that they’re missing each other. Parents aren’t matching, and listening, to what their children want to talk about, and can over-emphasize certain points. I often hear that parents try and engage their children, but they feel tuned out. Parents can also feel intimated by not knowing the technology or social media their children are using. They feel like they can’t relate to that social media experience, because the digital landscape didn’t exist during their adolescence. But the best way to get into your child’s world is to get past not knowing about the apps, and try and connect with them first; what I call ‘relationship before task.’ I think that is what will lead to the most constructive conversations.
What is one piece of advice you would give parents to help them engage their daughters in a productive conversation about social media?
The best conversation I have with kids begins when I say to them, ‘Tell me what you love about Snapchat?’ (Or whatever social media channel, or video game, they are using). Often children assume when we bring up social media that we, as adults, are going to secretly lecture them and/or be disapproving. But if you start a dialogue from a good, positive place you often organically touch upon some of the challenges they are facing as well. Once parents establish the knowledge and connectedness, it’s easier to have the more difficult conversations. At that point, children are often more receptive as well.
Moreover, 90% of the time children end up talking about something not related to the technology. Many of the issues they're facing are rooted in non-tech relationships, and are relatable areas to most adults. For example, they want to talk about how they might be feeling left out, or how they’ve lost a friend – an area where most parents are able to provide guidance/insight. Many of the issues they are dealing with are out of the world of technology and social media, but they take it to the digital space to blow off steam and work through the problem.
Navigating the social media landscape with your children can sometimes feel like a power shift that makes us feel uncomfortable. Kids know more about it than their parents; we didn’t experience this type of technology as a teenager. That terrifies us, and it’s a weird place to be a as parent.  But we have to see it as a chance to learn from our children, and let them teach us – give them an opportunity to show and explain their digital world to us. Then you are able to constructively talk through issues and problem solve together.
Dr. Walsh will be speaking with Dana Hall MS parents in the MS Multipurpose Room on Tuesday, January 30, at 7 p.m.
    • Jill Walsh, PhD

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