3 Ways to Restore Self-Esteem & Sense of Privacy to Digital Teens


While kids today are the beneficiaries of amazing technology, there are casualties to growing up digital we can’t deny. We know the hit that education, relationships, and even a child’s very health can take when we don’t help kids balance their tech. But what about the more subtle losses our kids are incurring that are harder to spot? What about the slow forfeit of precious things such as self-esteem, privacy, and a sense of personal safety? These are just a few of the many “losses” I’ve been noticing in my own teens as they live digital.

Often I file much of my kids’ peer fallouts online as teen “drama” but I’m realizing more and more, it’s not drama at all—it’s pain, real pain caused by real loss. It’s loss in the form of emotional staples that, ironically, most kids don’t even realize—or can’t pinpoint—that they have lost.

Think about it. The digital self-management required by teens today is absolutely mind-boggling. They aren’t just kids stumbling through adolescence toward adulthood, they’ve become virtual plate spinners. These plate spinners must: edit photos, respond promptly (either out of habit or pressure), out-post and out-funny others, inventory friend feeds, collect likes and followers, and calculate the social risk of various peer interactions. This list goes on and on . . . and on.

If you think you are raising a teenage daughter or son, think again: You are now raising a digital contortionist, shape shifter, and peer-to-peer diplomat of sorts. In the process, our kids are losing large pieces of the basic emotional puzzle they need to mature become whole. And, more than ever, they need the guidance of  their parents, guardians, and teachers.

What’s at stake?

Self-esteem. The luxury many parents had of being able to develop a healthy self-esteem (despite normal obstacles) is put at risk each morning when our kids fire up their mobile feeds. Unlike us, our kids are hit with a barrage of relationship politics, physical and material judgments, and a handful of emotional and social intrusions before they step foot into their first class each morning.

Privacy. It just takes one amateur hacker, a group of bullies, or a frenemy who steals a password or shares a secret to do some serious damage to a child’s sense of personal privacy. The secrets you and I shared as kids are long gone for today’s teens that know that nothing is secret for long. There are hundreds of other hits to our kids’ privacy happening every day with personal data mining occurring through apps, social networks, and even in schools. Recently Google admitted data mining via Google Apps for Education, used by many schools.

Sense of security. Words like “predator” and “stalker” have been used so frequently in raising this generation that kids often call one another (or others who appear creepy) those serious terms in jest. Still, most kids have become paranoid to do simple things such as walk around the block or take a casual bike ride. Their sense of personal safety with increased digital access to their personal information and location has put a damper on what should be the adventurous days of youth.

So what can we do as parents to restore some of these basic staples to their adolescence?

These waters are wide and deep but here are three areas of focus just to get you started:shutterstock_180056633

• Affirm kids outside of “the feed.” Peers wield the influence during the teen years but kids need their parents (no matter how they may act). According to a recent article by Dr. Tim Elmore, “affirming” kids isn’t necessarily building them up with constant (or inflated) praise, which can lead to narcissism. Rather, parents can strengthen self-esteem in kids by striking a balance between being A) responsive, which is showing encouragement, belief, understanding and support and B) demanding, which is setting standards and holding kids accountable to them. “Believe it or not,” writes Elmore, “genuine self-esteem is built from achievement not just affirmation. Kids need to feel they can accomplish something with their own skill set. When adults do things for their kids, it eventually sends the message: ‘You are unable. I must do this.'”

• Teach kids to safeguard personal privacy (theirs and others). Kids have been raised to exchange their privacy for access in the digital world. Teach kids to protect their identity and fly under the radar of Google (and other online power-holders) when at all possible. Maxing privacy settings on social networks and apps, backing up personal content and data off-line, and creating strong passwords will help kids feel they have control over their privacy.

• Nurture a sense of personal security. In a recent article in Psychology Today, Dr. Jim Taylor writes “one of the most important qualities to instill in your children is a deep sense of security in themselves and the world. There are three messages you want your children to get to nurture their developing sense of security:

  • Others: There are people in my world that will protect me when needed.
  • Self: I am master of all that is me (body, mind, spirit) and am capable of taking care of myself.
  • World: The world is a safe place that I can explore with confidence and free from fear.

As parents, we need to be consistently brave to retain our influence in your children’s digital lives. Brave means we need to admit that we’ve allowed some of the best parts of growing up to be edged out by the way we all use technology. And braver still in taking steps to restore what’s been lost. Let’s start today!

What basic experiences and emotional staples did you enjoy as a child that you’ve noticed are at-risk for your child?


Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @McAfee_Family

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