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Wolk this way: Expert offers advice on raising girls in the age of social media

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Concerned about your daughter’s need for ‘likes’ and her addiction to her smart phone?…I’ve got the antidote,” says author, educator, and girls’ leadership guru Laurie Wolk, who is a Westchester mom raising young teens — two daughters and a son.

She advises parents on how to speak with children about the do’s and don’ts of social media, and her new book — “Girls Just Want to Have Likes: How to Raise Confident Girls in the Face of Social Media Madness” — is a back-to-basics approach to parenting in the digital age.

“Parents want help. Raising kids in the iGeneration is totally new. We have no role models, because nobody has been here before,” says Wolk. “And even though many of us already know which valuable life skills we want our kids to learn, and we’re aware of those old-school parenting techniques, we’re often too busy with our day-to-day lives to implement them!”

Did you know that an average 12- to 15-year-old sends over 40 texts a day? And that 78 percent of teens check their mobile device hourly?

Wolk’s goal is to help parents like you “reclaim the power in their homes away from social media, the uninvited guest, and go back to the basics of creating a stable and loving home, accepting and encouraging their daughters and gently nudging them to take risks and experience real accomplish­ments.”

And she hopes that parents can “step (back) into their roles as mentor and guide and stand side by side with their daughters, helping them unwind and decode the different messages that social media is sending them.” As this begins to take shape in the home, Wolk predicts that social media “will start to blend into the background, allowing the things that matter most to stand front and center – your daughter!”

Wouldn’t it be nice if families went back to a simpler time — when “like” meant that you were really liked — and not by 155 strangers? And feelings were expressed with an actual hug or kiss … and not by texting cute emojis? That said, perhaps parents should look at devices and social media through a less gloomy and more positive lens, so they can learn to embrace today’s digital reality and teach their children how to monitor themselves and stay safe online.

“It’s important to speak with your children about what is appropriate and safe to post … and how to become a good digital citizen,” says Wolk.

As a proactive parent, she also feels that other parents shouldn’t get distracted by their own devices and busy lifestyle, but knows it’s easier said than done.

Building a healthy family connection takes work. And Wolk is hands-on when it comes to her brood. Her book helps parents with powerful communication and leadership skill lessons, providing real-life examples. Hopefully, your efforts will yield confident, capable young women (and men) who can communicate and interact with different people effectively … in the real world (despite opposing views, for example).

With an increase in teen anxiety, protecting them from the harsh realities of life may not be the best way to go. In a scary, unpredictable world, Wolk believes “we must expose our kids and ourselves to the hard stuff. Not easy, I know,” she admits.

As parents, we shouldn’t underestimate the power of social media … and the media for that matter. So, when you’re ready for action and want to take your power back, you’ll find helpful templates, exercises, and worksheets that you can use as valuable tools to deal with your device-addicted teen, who may be somewhat brainwashed by what she has been exposed to via screens.

In her roles as educator and motivational speaker, Wolk helps parents and young girls learn how to communicate and connect with themselves, each other, and the outside world. She works directly with companies, schools, organizations, and individuals on building confidence and leadership skills.

She points out that girls are learning “valuable life lessons from mentors like the Kardashians and Instagram ‘stars,’ whose heavily edited photos and videos leave them feeling badly about themselves and second-guessing their own lives.

“Physical and psychological changes in her adolescent brain mixed with the impact of the media, most importantly social media, has girls feeling lackluster about themselves and uncomfortable communicating in real life,” she explains.

Wolk works hard to get the word out about raising balanced kids in our madcap — and sometimes dangerous — digital age.

Tammy Scileppi: So, how did your timely book come about?

Laurie Wolk: From the day I was told, “It’s a boy and a girl,” — yes, twins! — I told myself I was going to build a better me because of them. I felt that with unconditional love, strong values, and my hard-won life experiences, my kids would grow up to be a confident, capable, and kind young man and woman.

Up until my kids were eight, everything was going pretty much according to plan. Sure, the preschool and early elementary school years had their challenges, but nothing notable to speak of.

During those early years, I was a life coach and girls’ leadership educator, working with parents and kids. I attended conferences, took advanced certification classes, and pored over parenting books into the wee hours of the night. I tested out everything I was learning in real time on my children and my clients.

And then the world of iPhones, Instagram, Netflix, and Snapchat came a-knockin’. Instead of feeling like I had this whole “parenting” thing down, I had a pervasive feeling of fear, doubt, and powerlessness. Quite often, I felt paralyzed and incapable of taking any kind of action at all. These screens that had innocently come into our home had slowly taken over our lives.

I began talking about social media, and its influence on family life with my clients and their children in my workshops. I began researching the effects of social media and digital devices on our brains and development. I noticed that everyone focused on the doom and gloom aspect of social media, but nobody offered any tools or advice on what to do.

So, I set about finding the antidote, and I did, [and it] informs my book. It’s all about clear rules, family connections, and teaching life skills to our kids.

TS: So, how do parents raise confident girls amidst the social media madness?

LW: We parents and society give our girls (and boys) mixed messages, and we need to pay closer attention to our actions and our words. We tell them to be leaders, but we call them out for being “bossy.” We tell them that they are capable and strong, but then we jump in and solve their problems for them. We encourage them to be assertive, but then we inundate them with our pleas to be nice and respectful. We tell them to take risks and make mistakes, but then we mitigate their failures, so they don’t feel the hurt.

We need to teach our kids not to rely on the external world for validation. Sure, good grades in school or being on an elite sports team offer confidence boosts during those early years, but research shows that these are not enough to sustain a feeling of true confidence in one’s whole self. It’s the same for social media. Those online “likes” and comments aren’t going to give them the same happiness that an in-person compliment or a true “real life” connection would.

Having report cards that are covered with A’s alone is not doing our girls justice. In fact, along with those A’s, we want to be focusing on a whole lot of C’s, too: Communication, collaboration, contribution, character, and creativity.

TS: How do we teach our children to be brave and use their voices?

LW: Being able to share freely how you feel in exchange for the opportunity to make change in your world (or a situation) is freedom. Freedom is the ability to share your truth, knowing that you will be okay whatever the outcome is. Intimacy comes when you share how you feel — that’s how relationships get stronger. And relationships are the cornerstone of happiness.

Sharing how you feel also brings the truth to the surface. Even if your true feelings are not as well-received as you would’ve liked, you’ll still find you feel relief in having expressed them. When feelings are kept inside and not voiced, that’s when we see unhealthy and problematic behaviors develop. Those “hurt” feelings often get buried, and later in life (whether in work or in relationships), we tend to see that people fail to speak up yet again, having carried with them this default way of being. This can come at tremendous personal cost to their careers, marriages, and friendships.

That feeling of confidence that we all so desperately want for our kids is only created from the inside, and it’s hard-earned. No parental life lesson, academic achievement, social media stardom, empowerment rally, or brilliant ad campaign can give it to her. That confidence starts with girls learning to speak up and ask for what they want and need. It takes courage, but it’s a skill they (and even we adults) can learn with experience.

TS: Parents want to help their anxious teens, but many feel that it means protecting them from life’s challenges. That said, how can these kids deal with bumps in the road head on? Share your recipe for raising balanced kids in a digitally-obsessed world.

LW: One-half cup — Firm boundaries (set around the behavior you expect from them as well as their use of digital devices)

One-quarter cup — Understanding that social media and technology are here to stay and that it’s a way of life for kids today

12 heaping spoonfuls — Unconditional love

Continuous role modeling of the behavior you want to see in your kids, like kindness, respect, clear communication, taking risks, making mistakes, and bouncing back

Sprinkle throughout — Opportunities to practice the important life skills that they aren’t necessarily learning due to a busy after-school lifestyle and digital distractions

These types of skills — like being brave, caring, resilient, organized, honest, and creative — are what they need to find lasting happiness.

Knead repeatedly — This last step can be accomplished through a method I call “Life Skill Lessons From Your Living Room” in which you regularly allow your kids to cultivate these skills by planning things, volunteering, negotiating, taking risks, and more!

Part 2 will appear in our December issue.

Tammy Scileppi is a Queens-based freelance writer, parent, and regular contributor to New York Parenting.

Posted 12:00 am, November 21, 2017
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