For a Monday, the school day was turning out to be surprisingly awesome. Mackenzie sat with friends at lunch, chatted with her favorite teacher, and aced her English test.

Then came the shift.

It happened between 5th and 6th period when Mackenzie checked her Instagram account. One glance showed several posts from the popular girls (yet another party I wasn’t invited to, she thought). She saw her friend Emma’s Spring Break photos (how can someone look that good in a bikini, she wondered) followed by several whos-dating-who posts from blissful looking couples (when is someone going to love me, she mused). In less than 60 seconds, the images and comments Mackenzie saw had the power to subtly alter her heart and mind.

FOMO

Mackenzie isn’t alone. Studies have repeatedly linked Social networks with high levels of anxiety, depression, bullying and an emotional phenomenon called FOMO (fear of missing out) among teens and — if we’re honest — among plenty of adults.

We can’t control the perpetual stream of photos, comments, and videos that flood our social feeds. Social is here to stay, and to some extent, most of us are required to be online. However, we can control the amount and the quality of the content that comes at us. And, we can teach our kids to do the same.

It’s called the mute button, and it could be your family’s most underrated superpower when it comes to enjoying life online. Many people either don’t know about their mute button or forget they have it.

The mute button allows you to turn off someone’s feed (yes—make it vanish) without the awkwardness of unfollowing or unfriending them. The cool part: No one knows you’ve muted them, so there are no hurt feelings. You can still view a muted person’s profile, and they can see yours. You can send or receive direct messages as if everything were copacetic.

How to mute

Thankfully, you can mute people easily on most social networks.

To mute someone on Instagram, go to the person’s page, find to the three little dots in the top upper right of the page, click and choose mute (you can choose to mute their feed and their stories). You can mute someone on Facebook by going to the person’s main page and clicking the “friends” button under their photo. You will have the option to “unfollow,” which will mute the person’s content but allow you to stay friends. On Twitter, you can stop seeing a person’s tweets by going to the three dots in the top upper right corner and choosing “mute.”

This simple, powerful click will allow you to curate what you see in your feed every day and instantly block the content that is annoying or negative. The result? Fewer emotional darts are flying at you randomly throughout the day and, hopefully, a more enjoyable, positive experience online.

When to mute

What’ s considered annoying or offensive to one person may be entirely acceptable and even enjoyable to someone else. So, the reasons for muting someone can vary greatly.

A few reasons to mute might be: 

  • Inappropriate or offensive content
  • Mean, bullying, or reckless content
  • Posting too frequently
  • Excessive bragging, boasting, or self-promotion
  • Content that negatively impacts your mental health
  • Non-stop political posts or rants
  • Too many selfies
  • Graphic or disturbing images or videos
  • Constant negative or critical posts
  • Useless, uninteresting, or tedious information
  • Monopolizing conversations
  • Perpetual personal drama
  • Too much content on one topic

Talking points for families

Editing your social circle is okay. The voices that surround you have influence, so choose the voices you surround yourself with carefully. Also, being “friends” with 1,000 or even 300 people isn’t realistic or reflective of real life. Remind kids: That tug (or compulsion) you feel to like, comment, post, or chime in online should not rule your time or your mind. You (and your family) may be surprised how good it feels to whittle down the number of voices you allow into your day.

Pay attention to emotional triggers. In many ways, you are what you consume online. Ask yourself: Is this person’s account positive or negative? Does it make me feel included and worthy or excluded and less-than? Do I feel jealous, annoyed, or negative when I see this person’s updates, photos, or tweets? Edit boldly. You can mute negative accounts temporarily or permanently without guilt.

Less noise, less clutter. If you want things to be different, you have to do things differently, and this applies online. Forming your thoughts and opinions is much more difficult when you are constantly absorbing other people’s ideas. The less digital clutter, the more room for quiet contemplation and self-awareness, which is always a good idea for young and older mind minds alike.

Be brave, be you. Kids pay far more attention to friend and follower counts than adults do. They consider it intentional rejection when someone unfollows or unfriends them online. For that reason, you may need to reiterate the importance of putting mental health before popularity or people pleasing. Remind them: It’s okay to mute, unfollow, or unfriend any person who is not a positive influence on your heart and mind.

No one is everyone’s favorite. It’s impossible to like everyone or be liked by everyone — impossible. There will always be individuals who will get under your skin. And, at times, people may feel the same about you. This is a normal part of human relationships. This reality makes striving to be liked by everyone online an impossible, exhausting task.

The digital world is packed with ever-changing social complexities. Seemingly casual clicks can trigger an avalanche of positive or negative emotions that can take their toll (whether we realize it or not). Helping your child think proactively about content and take responsibility for the content comes across his or her screen, is more important than ever in raising wise, healthy digital kids.

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