It is not a new subject for me to write about smart online behavior for kids as well as us adults who serve as examples for them. After some of my articles were published, I was connected with a woman in our North Denver neighborhood who has been actively doing something about this.
Amanda McLernon runs a social media firm that she founded on principles of scrupulous internet engagement. One of the first phrases you see on the home page of her website reads: “If you believe in keeping social media social and kind, you’re in the right place.” Her goals in helping businesses include making social media real and authentic, condemning the use of bot-followers, thus reminding clients that the goal is to reach real people by engaging them thoughtfully.
Having had that basis for her professional life, McLernon experienced an “A-ha” moment after she moved to Denver a few years ago. Not knowing anyone yet, she turned to the internet, where she had always found joy in connecting with people all over the world. As time passed however, her online life became a replacement for meeting actual new friends in Denver. She found herself in a lonely place. Likening the situation to what an addict might go through when hitting rock bottom, she realized she needed a time-out from the internet, a “re-set” she calls it, in order to set new boundaries for herself. She got outside, learned to be comfortable with silence and planned some real-person meet ups.
McLernon had a sense that she was not the only person who had gone through something like this. Especially for generations growing up with social media, not using it can be a strange and difficult undertaking. She wanted to help others navigate this dilemma and founded the organization, “Keep Social Media Social” (TM), evolving out of the standards she created for her social media company, providing guidance through inexpensive workshops for young people, adults and parents who want to have a more intentional, balanced approach to using the internet.
Through her workshops and articles, she promotes the importance of creating a balance between online activity and in-person experiences. She emphasizes learning positive communication methods on and off line. A fan of Brené Brown, McLernon echoes the awareness of the emotional impact of our words and the prevalence of online bullying, not just with young people, but among all users. She advocates active listening techniques, as simple as keeping eye contact and making relevant comments during a conversation for those who have perhaps spent a lot of time in front of screens.
Additionally, McLernon is reaching out to schools and parents to help foster curriculums and regular parenting routines to include preemptive online use, etiquette, and teaching awareness of basic, proactive communication skills. Sometimes it is as simple as reminding people of the Golden Rule.
As a teacher myself, I saw the deficit in communication skills growing since smartphones arrived on the scene. It was a struggle for me to set the priority for my son’s play dates to not include playing on a phone or iPad. When I mention it in passing, a lot of parents do not see the use in bringing up appropriate media use until their kids are older and have their own devices. BUT, so many young children play with their parents’ devices as early as toddlerhood and many children grow to prefer to spend their time with technology over real life experiences.
McLernon encourages parents to tap into the power of habit reflection and paying attention to emotional cues, routines, and reactions to random phone use, “What makes you pick up your phone?” she asks. “We need to remember it is a tool, not a part of our consciousness. Give yourselves and your kids space and grace and know that if you get to a place of silence or boredom, that is a good thing – it means that you have given yourself a mental break. I love technology and it is a huge part of my professional and personal life, but I need that healthy freedom from the technology in my everyday life.”
There are many ways to implement healthier online practices besides just putting down the device. McLernon offers ideas such as advocating for a cause on your social media platforms to pay it forward in your community. Approach your online activity with intention for good; encourage someone, empathize with a difficult situation, or seek to educate. Check out her website, https://www.mclernonandco.com/event/ and consider enrolling your family in one of her workshops.
Jill Carstens taught for 30 years and now enjoys writing this column, connecting with North Denver merchants for ad sales for The Denver North Star and organizing neighborhood events supporting the local arts, community, and sustainable ideas.
You can see some of what she is organizing at CurateLocally.com or email her with comments or story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.