A world without heroes. Is like a world without sun.
Many were shocked and saddened to see Osama bin Laden’s antisemitic 2002 “Letter to America” go viral on social media this month. What is the environment that attracted large numbers of young people on TikTok to the writing of one of the world’s most notorious anti-Semites and mass murderers? How should concerned parents respond when youngsters or teens are exposed to information on social media or from their peers that they may be unprepared to understand?
While young people’s ubiquitous connection to social media has an increasingly significant impact, parents are in the best position to counter that influence.
When asked who they most look up to, surveys of youngsters have shown that for a majority, the overall answer is mom and dad followed by other relatives. As a parent, you are your child’s #1 hero.
For conversations that matter, it’s not enough to leave those challenges to teachers alone.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy, particularly for youngsters in single parent families — about a third of America’s youth — where one parent has to handle such responsibilities significantly on their own.
Although the most important foundation for conversations that matter is listening, when it comes to speaking, the PAIRS Talking Tips tool can be helpful.
Talking Tips is a structured confiding tool with ten sentence stems that help a speaker communicate about one specific topic and a listener practice listening for understanding as opposed to reacting.
In this confiding exercise, the listener’s role is to actively, carefully listen to each sentence stem and repeat it back so the speaker knows they are heard accurately. That means that after the speaker says each sentence, the listener repeats back (paraphrases) what they heard. When what’s repeated back is accurate, the speaker goes on to the next sentence. When it isn’t, the speaker and listener try the sentence again.
Using the topic of Bin Laden’s “Letter to America,” here’s what a parent might confide to a teen [or youngster] using Talking Tips:
- I notice many young people on TikTok were interested in Osama bin Laden’s “Letter to America” recently.
- I assume this means people were curious about what was written in the letter.
- I think it’s important to know that the writer of that letter was an evil [bad] man and a mass murderer [hurt a lot of people].
- I am frustrated because this isn’t something I expected to talk with you about, certainly not as a youngster, but I know you’re exposed to so much on social media and it’s important you’re informed.
- I am hurt because this evil [bad] man murdered [hurt] so many people, including people who were important to our family. He caused so much harm and some people may not know enough to reject [know not to believe] his lies and manipulations [dishonesty].
- I worry about you thinking this mass murderer [bad man] should have any credibility or is deserving of respect from our family or anyone.
- I want you to know that while the world is full of many good people, there are evil [bad] people in the world who hurt others and this man was one of the worst.
- I appreciate how bright and curious you are about the world, including the world far beyond home, school, and our local community.
- I realize that you may think I’m making a bigger deal about this than is necessary, but I’m doing that because of how important you are to me, and this issue is for us.
- I hope you’ll be extra careful about the social media you check-out, what you read and watch, and that you’ll always come to me/us when you come across anything disturbing or anything you might have questions about.
After completing the exercise, you can have a regular conversation about what you shared, reverse roles if your child wants to try confiding with you being the listener, or just continue your day knowing you’ve had a conversation that matters with the most important person in your life.