As a parent who is a therapist, I have the wisdom of my clients behind me when guiding social etiquette protocol in a world of social media. Both my kids had to be a certain age before upgrading from a “slide” phone to a smart phone because I knew the upgrade meant so much more than technologically upgrading. For example, we had a family agreement that they had to explain to us (their mom and dad) why Snapchat would make their lives better, not worse, when they wanted to become Snapchat users. I came up with this idea when I was counseling so many young adults as they deleted this app over and over in order to not feel so awful and controlled by it.
My family crossed all of these social media bridges together over the years, and fortunately for me, because of my job with socially savvy clients, I understand the politics of Snapchat much more than I understand Snapchat. I understand what it means to be “left open” and what it means to leave a group only to be added back in. I get it that sometimes creating a new group is much less hurtful than “KO” (kicking out) someone from an existing group.
I adapted to the idea that adolescents’ plans will change at the touch of a screen and that judgments will be made based on what one posts and even how often. Do I agree with it all? That is not as relevant as the moral and ethical compass I nurture in both my clients and my own teens.
Helping navigate the feelings of inclusion and of exclusion are topics I encounter daily. Who is included in a group chat is becoming the powerful feeling of multiple likes on a post because it means that you are not only accepted (like a high-liked-post may make you feel), but you are individually included, and that can spark joy. “They added me to their group chat” is like winning the lottery. Leaving a group chat can take breaking up feelings and grief, or even rejection and betrayal, to a whole new level.
The new cliques are now named across the top of the phones (and often quite cleverly named). They are not assumed based on who you hang with or sit with at lunch or dress like or anything else we did in the pre-social-media days. They are the people in your groupchat.
I appreciate the learning I can do through my teen clients. It helps me in my work with parents when they themselves exist in their child’s 2019 world, and it helps me be an educated parent myself. But make no mistake: My appreciation of the education is nowhere near the level of my awe at these teens’ abilities to survive and even thrive in a world with so many unwritten rules.