In times of great social change, it is often teens and young adults who find themselves at the forefront in advancing toward progress and reform. This has become increasingly true in the past few years as the movement for black lives, the LGBTQ+ rights movement, and the efforts to combat climate change (among others) have gained momentum and visibility. Some say that increase in visibility is tied directly to the advent of social media and the ways in which it has impacted how people connect with each other and share their experiences and passions.
Activism can be like any other passion a young person might focus their time and energy on: determining what social circles they move within and what they might pursue in higher education (or professionally) in the same ways joining a sports team or trying out for the school musical might. While you may already have some idea of how to foster those passions, activism can be tricky to navigate as a parent. Below are some tips and suggestions on ways you as a parent can support your teen’s passion for activism when it comes to social media.
Encourage Source Checking
Whether it's a 60 second video on TikTok or a post with five sleekly designed slides on Instagram, nuance about social justice issues can get lost in the shuffle on posts to social media. Resharing posts like this has become an important way people share what issues they’re passionate about to their own social media, but it's important to look further into where the information being presented is coming from. Encouraging your teen to check the sources for information they see on social media is an easy way to foster critical thinking.
It might be your instinct to play devil’s advocate when learning about a social issue that your teen is becoming passionate about, especially if it’s an issue you’re not familiar with or are very familiar with. An alternative to this approach is asking your teen broad and open-ended questions about the topic. If you see your teen share something on social media, asking about it in an in-person conversation shows them you’re interested in learning more about what issues matter most to them. It also gives them the opportunity to reach conclusions and form opinions of their own without worrying about getting it completely right or wrong in a public forum like social media.
Modeling Constructive Ways to Navigate Disagreement
Disagreements over social issues can disrupt harmony within a family or community. When these disagreements play out over social media, it can quickly turn into a spectacle with friends, family, and outsiders piling on over the disagreement. These kinds of interactions rarely lead to a positive outcome. Adopting the practice of calling someone in instead of calling them out, and moving public disagreements to private or even offline conversations not only reduces your own stress, but it shows your teen a constructive way to make broad discussions more personal.
Not every conversation focused on social issues will go perfectly, and strictly posting on social media doesn’t solve most problems people are facing today. But as a parent, you can set your teen up to be an informed digital citizen who is ready to speak up for causes that matter to them, and to listen and learn along the way toward taking action.