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Teaching Social Tolerance in Today’s Political Climate

January 16th, 2017     By Kristen Abbondante, PhD, LP, BCBA , Psychologist, Boys Town Behavioral Health Clinic

Anxiety, Parenting Skills

The 2016 presidential election has created intense feelings for many people –adolescents included. Those feelings and thoughts have been expressed using social media. While it’s great that young people are engaged in the political process and want to use social media as a way to express those thoughts and feelings, often times adolescents need guidance on how to formulate a digestible opinion. Before they do this, it’s important for parents to see this experience as a teachable moment for helping young people learn how to express themselves in ways that are consumable by others. Here are some suggestions for teaching teens to post online in appropriate and productive ways:

  • Acknowledge that online posting is a developmentally appropriate way for teens to express themselves and their opinions. Even though you may not choose to post your own opinions online or have had a negative experience with posting political views online, that doesn’t mean you can’t teach your teen how to effectively use social media as a communication outlet. Posting online can be a healthy outlet for young people as long as they know how to do so properly.
  • Communicate with your teen. Discuss the election and their political views. Help them decipher and better formulate their opinions. Work with them on developing written (and verbal) ways to express their opinions that are respectful so they can be heard and listened to by others.
  • Discuss the importance of listening to other diverse and opposing points of view and how to be tolerant and accepting of them. Help them understand that to be heard and understood, it’s critical they also listen and attempt to understand others. Diversity and different points of view are a staple of our country and the communities we live in. That’s why teaching young people about tolerance and acceptance, and that diverse opinions and values can co-exist, is so important. The idea here is to teach teens that even though people can completely disagree, tolerance and acceptance allows people to understand one another without having to agree or trying to change others’ opinions.
  • Model appropriate behavior and talk with your teen about what an appropriate online post looks and sounds like. Before they post, ask them to think about questions like: Why is it important to me to post about this topic? What is the value in posting this? What’s the message that I have? Also, encourage your teen to think about how others might interpret their post instead of looking at it just from their perspective.
  • Praise your teen for being informed, educating themselves, and having an opinion on politics and the election. One of the great outcomes from the election is it has inspired and engaged teens and young people on political issues and the political process. Encourage your teen to remain engaged on current events and discuss how this is an important part of being an informed, responsible citizen.

As a parent, you may want to deter your teen from posting controversial views like political ones online because you are worried they might offend others and/or receive negative backlash. One of the inherent hazards of online posting is that we might offend someone without meaning to do so. That’s why it’s important to prepare and teach young people how to express their views and beliefs in ways that are consumable versus objectionable.

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