If an app existed that tracked the minutes we spent looking at other people’s social profiles online (much like a Fitbit that tracks physical steps), some of us might quietly slip into a state shock.
Call it what you will — creeping, Facebook stalking, digital digging — it’s a habit that could be sucking up your time and even your life. Sometimes it’s an innocent click on Facebook to see what an old friend is up to. Only that click might lead to an interesting comment left by a mutual friend you totally forgot about, which inspires a few more clicks that might lead to several other pages and before long you are in the digital equivalent of Istanbul with no idea how you got there.
Other clicks aren’t so innocent, especially when it comes to tweens and teens. Young love has the internet buzzing with profile hopping and ex-stalking. On the agenda today: Who is dating who and who is in whose story? Who is liking a certain somebody’s photos or tweets just a little too much lately? What started as a simple look can soon turn into a full-blown ex- or friends-of-new-girl-or-guy-of-ex, obsession.
Not a great way to spend a day. And with summer coming up, digital digging is not a good way to spend a whole lot of days.
We’ve All Done It
Creeping isn’t just for kids; adults do their fair share. The more independent kids become, the less personal information they share, which prompts parents to digitally piece together their kids’ social life. On our agenda today: Who are they hanging out with? What kind of kids are they? Where did they really go on Friday night?
Yes, parents (who admit it or not) have also become quite adept at social creeping. For teens and adults alike, If you’ve ever dabbled in the excessive zone or watched someone else obsess, you know it can be emotionally and physically exhausting and render zero benefits.
However, the knowledge that excessive digital digging is not healthy or productive rarely stops someone on the hunt. So what can you do to encourage your teenager (or even yourself) to ween and eventually quit this counterproductive hobby? Here are a few things.
Six ways to ‘just say no’ to digital digging
1. Relationship over rules. Your first tool in equipping your child is building a good relationship. From there, just about anything on your parenting docket is possible. So, every day, in big and small ways, be sure that relationship (not controlling behavior) is your #1 parenting goal. Listen. Empathize. Be a positive advocate for your tween or teen child (as opposed to a critical, demanding authority figure). Remember: Balance is key. There will be a season to be your child’s best friend, but that’s not the goal just yet.
If you want to get a taste of how even the best-intentioned parents can distort creeping, just watch the movie Men, Women & Children, and you will be instantly inspired to keep your parental digital snooping in check. In the film, actor Jennifer Garner plays an overly-snooping mom who tragically misses the bigger picture of the importance of building a relationship with teens over enforcing digital rules.
2. Logic. This is always a great, albeit overlooked place to start. Slow down long enough to understand exactly how unhealthy. A) Ask your child (or your friend or yourself if applicable) how many hours a day, a week, a month, they check on “that” person’s account. Have them add it up. They may be shocked. B) Have them list anything they’ve discovered that has made them feel good about themselves or their relationship with the other person. It’s likely that list will be short if not empty. C) Gently ask: “To what end? What is the benefit of this? How does it make you feel?” Then be quiet and let them talk.
3. Clean house. Encourage your child to unfollow, delete phone numbers, or even block a person they are trying to break ties with. This may cause panic since in your teen’s world, doing this is akin to social exile and could extinguish (in their eyes) any hope for a future reconciliation. Start small and set a goal. Ask your child to do this for two weeks. Sometimes a few weeks can restore sleep and a whole new perspective.
4. Stay busy. If you keep touching a wound, it will never heal. And if you keep creeping, your heart will never heal. Replace digging time with another activity or two. Encourage your son or daughter to get a new hobby, try out for a new sport, or do something fun with family or friends instead of troll the Internet piecing posts together.
5. Provide accountability. A heartbroken teen won’t notice it but a parent or group of friends will. If your child begins subtweeting a lot, overposting his or her fun photos, or even serial dating in a digitally competitive way, it’s a sign that healing and creeping are at odds. Step in. Respectfully and gently redirect your teen to limiting posting until his or her heart is in a healthier place.
5. Eliminate the temptation. If willpower, accountability, filtering, and logic fails, encourage (or mandate) your child to unplug for several hours a day. Turn the hours into a full day or two a week. This will likely mean you physically take their phone while they are forced to pursue other activities. Lastly, be sure to seek professional help if you see signs of internet addiction in your child or someone you know. Trust your gut; you know when a behavior has evolved to something unhealthy.
There’s not one solution that fits every situation. Creeping can be a short season, and other times, well, it can become emotionally damaging and evolve to dangerous behavior. Be flexible, try different approaches to help your child (or friend, or self) — but try. The situation will likely not remedy itself. Empathize with your child’s temptation to seek information and respect his or her healing process but keep an eye on the effect technology plays in that process.