Timeless Principles to Help Your Child Develop Social Superpowers

By on Feb 15, 2020

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” ~ Dale Carnegie

Each year it’s my tradition to re-read a handful of books that continue to shape my perspective. One of those books is the 1936 self-help classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

I’ll admit, I’ve never liked the book’s overly-schmoozy title, but its content is gold. And 84 years later, it’s still relevant to our ongoing family discussion of how to model leadership and get a more meaningful return on our digital connections.

Slow down, look around

It has become easy, and almost habitual, to move fast, skim content, and make quick judgments. We upload details about ourselves, our opinions, our activities, our agendas, our wins.

Carnegie’s approach (condensed and paraphrased): Slow down and look around. Take a genuine interest in the people around you. Make room for different points of view. Steer clear of drama, criticizing others, and conflict. And never make anyone feel “less than.”

Social superpowers

Carnegie’s principles, applied online, are tools parents can use to help kids develop their social superpowers. The simple act of slowing down and listening instead of clicking is a big step toward more genuine connections.

On the safety side, slowing down can help kids become more aware of and avoid threats such as cyberbullying, scams, catfishing, and online conflict.

Here are a few more Carnegie power tips (condensed and paraphrased) to help build up your family’s social superpowers.

More meaningful connections

Take a genuine interest in others. “If we want to make friends, let’s do things for other people – things that require time, energy, unselfishness, and thoughtfulness.”

Encourage your child to step out of the “selfie” mindset as a first step in forming more genuine friendships online (as opposed to amassing followers). Brainstorm ways to do this. Maybe it’s more face-to-face time with known friends, keeping track of other people’s birthdays, and hand-writing cards and sending them in the mail. Paying attention to the details of a person’s life — their hobbies, family members, values, and goals — is the heartbeat of a real friendship.

Smile, be welcoming.  “Actions speak louder than words, and a smile says, ‘I like you. You make me happy. I am glad to see you.’”

Sounds simple but a smile — in this case, the way we welcome others online — can go a long way. The attitude we express through our online interactions communicates can make or break our relationships and reputation.

Encourage your child to review and delete negative or harmful content that lacks a spirit of inclusion and kindness. Our social profiles may be the first impression others — including teachers, colleges, and employers — may have of us.

Another plus: Choosing a digital “smile” when we post (over drama and making fun) sends a powerful message that can ease cyberbullying, build empathy, and be a source of strength for others who may be struggling.

Note: Choosing to smile online as a general principle doesn’t include faking it or only sharing a heavily-edited or overly positive version of your life. Be real. Be honest. Be you.

Affirm others. “. . . a sure way to [people’s] hearts is to let them realize in some subtle way that you realize their importance and recognize it sincerely.”

Everyone person on the planet has a fundamental need to be noticed and feel valued. With the amount of anxiety, depression, body image issues, and cyberbullying kids face online, what young person couldn’t use a genuine word of encouragement?

Discuss the many ways to affirm others on and offline. Encourage your child to be aware and willing to complement the strengths of others, cheer on accomplishments, and support a cause or passion they’ve expressed.

Avoid arguments and criticizing others. “Criticism is dangerous because it wounds a person’s precious pride, hurts his [or her] sense of importance, and arouses resentment.”

If we could all master these two Carnegie principles online, the world’s collective mental health might be on a happier, healthier trajectory.

Encourage your child to pay attention to his or her emotions and avoid engaging others if they feel angry, anxious, or tired. Discuss the importance of empathy and forgiveness. Challenge them to allow others to express their ideas without judgment.

Avoiding conflict doesn’t mean you ignore injustice or become a doormat. On the contrary, responding with grace in a tense situation requires strength and self-control — especially when it comes to trolls and bullies.

Carnegie wrote his book during the Great Depression when the practice optimism and simple truths were critical to a person’s hope. So, some perspectives will feel odd or passé. But stick with it. Savor and apply the gems and enjoy the process of deepening your digital connections.

About the Author

Toni Birdsong

Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist for McAfee. She is an author, speaker, and cyber savvy mom of two teenagers (much to their dismay). As a family safety evangelist for McAfee, she focuses on online safety and often speaks to educators, parents, and teens about dodging the dangers online. She is the co-owner of ...

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