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Technology as Christmas Gifts: What you should know before gifting a smartphone to your child this holiday season

November 28, 2016 No Comments

A Q&A with Gabriella van Rij, kindness activist, author, and speaker

Let’s face it. Smartphones make our lives convenient, so it shouldn’t surprise us when kids want in on the action too. Here is Gabriella van Rij—international kindness activist, author, and speaker—on the good, the bad, and the ugly regarding gifting smartphones and other digital devices to children as a holiday gift.

  • Q: Smartphones and tablets have been cited as the #1 gifted item during the holiday—is this a good thing?

Gabriella: Since 2012, I have visited schools across the States and talked with students at assemblies about their social media use on sites such as Instagram, Vine, Twitter, Snapchat and Facebook. I’ve heard heartbreaking stories, a few of which I recount in my book, I Can Find My Might, which is part memoir and part self-help book for students.

The truth is, smartphones can be weapons in the wrong hands and can be used to humiliate and bully. For example, one student told me of a time he was followed into a bathroom, filmed, and the clip put on social media with terrible hashtags. I call it “cyber torment” and it is more rampant than most parents and educators want to believe.

Grown ups have had years of life experiences to pull from and can generally discern when something is appropriate to post or not. But with children there’s often a disconnect between taking a picture or video clip of what you think is funny and being able to stop and think, “Wait, this is a person with thoughts and feelings and could be hurt by this [photo, video, etc.].”

Cyberbullying on social media is a real thing, and parents must keep an eye out for signs that their child is a victim of cyber torment, or possibly an instigator.

  • Q: How can we tell when children are victims of cyber torment?

Gabriella: Here are a few signs to look out for:

ŸIsolation. For example, when you pick your child up from school, does she frequently stand by herself, apart from her classmates? Sometimes, a student will isolate herself if she feels she is being ignored or ridiculed.

ŸMood swings or loss of interest in previously anticipated activities. Being harassed online can consume your thoughts, upset your emotions, and cause loss of appetite, sleep and concentration.

ŸOverly aggressive behavior and mean speech. Students will mimic what they see being modeled around them. “Nobody strikes another coming from a positive place”. If your child is hurting, his actions will show it. Connect with your child’s emotions.

  • Q: What’s a good way to teach social media etiquette and healthy online conduct?

Gabriella: This might sound old-fashioned, but the best way to do this is by being kind, open, and gentle in your comments not only on social media, but also in your interactions with everyone. There shouldn’t be a double standard. And when you see someone being unkind in real life, be an active witness. Don’t do nothing!
Do something. Say something, be active…

Remember you are the example. They see your social media profile and online behavior and are likely to replicate it.

  • Q: What kinds of behavior might adults be engaged in that kids will model?

Gabriella: Bad language and strong opinions. Which is particularly true here in the U.S. during election season when emotions run rampant.Teach your child that we all judge, and we have a right to our opinions, but we need to use wisdom as to when and how to voice what we think. Tell your child how you feel about what is going on. Use those moments when they see something you wish they hadn’t as a platform to open the discussion.

Another thing: I see a lot of venting and emotional rants online, which just isn’t smart because that’s exactly when we say stuff we don’t really mean because we’re just trying to get it off our chests. But you can’t just say, “Sally, don’t vent online!” You need to also provide an alternative safe place where they feel they can be heard.

Also, emphasize re-reading comments before hitting enter. When you teach your child (and maybe even yourself) to re-read a post before hitting the enter key, they will likely pick up on the unfiltered part of their post!

  • Q: Any last tips for parents who are considering gifting a tablet or smartphone?

Gabriella: Smartphones can stifle family conversations, so agree with your child on some smartphone-free times beforehand. For example, make it a rule that during mealtimes phones are completely turned off (not even on vibrate mode, but totally OFF) and put in a pile in a different room. Or give them a phone, but then keep the charger and allow them only one full charge per day. If it runs out of batteries, let them get into a different activity!

ABOUT GABRIELLA VAN RIJ: The leading voice of the Kindness movement, Gabriella works to spread the message that we are all unique and we each have something to offer the person next to us. She is a speaker, author & activist for kindness whose presentations blend humor, original analogies, and her life story to create a rare perspective-shifting experience that speaks to all and that provides the tools audiences need for more productive relationships. Gabriella has been seen by millions on Dr. Phil, ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX. Gabriella’s #DareToBeKind campaign brings her bullying prevention program to schools, communities, and corporations across the US. Blame is not the cure. Action is. End bullying. Follow the campaign on LinkedIn, Facebook, or learn more here.






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