Sometimes a friend or relative will share opinions online that you don’t care for. Maybe it’s about ‘big stuff’ like politics, the environment, or COVID-19, or ‘small stuff’ like what to do for your family Christmas. Let’s say you care about this person and value your relationship with them. How do you disagree without making things worse?
Unfortunately, arguments can blow up much faster online than they would face to face. But if we handle it well, a respectful argument can help us to understand each other better. It’s not healthy or realistic to expect to live in an echo chamber where everyone agrees with us all the time.
So, what can parents tell their teens about coping with disagreements online?
Don’t fire off a furious comment in the heat of the moment. Take a step back, and do something that helps you chill out, like exercise or a favourite hobby.
Before you speak up, ask yourself:
And think about who else is watching. A public fight could stay online forever, so in most cases it’s better to chat in private.
When was the last time you changed your mind because someone yelled at you on social media? For many people, the answer is ‘never’!
It’s natural for people to become defensive when they are challenged, especially if the topic under discussion is important to them and their friends. It’s even common for people to reject new information, if it doesn’t fit with what they believe to be ‘true’ and ‘socially acceptable’. Grappling with new facts and ideas is hard work – it can force us to admit that we got things wrong in the past, or that we don’t understand everything. No one enjoys that!
So, if you’re arguing with someone about a topic that’s close to their heart, recognise that they probably won’t change their views overnight. But you might be able to negotiate a way forward.
If you’ve both had your say, and you’ve managed to keep things respectful, that’s a good start. You don’t have to reach an agreement today. You might say something like ‘It’s been good talking, and I think I understand better where you’re coming from. Let’s get back to this another time’.
On the other hand, if the other person is threatening you, attacking you personally, calling you names or giving ultimatums, it’s time to get out. You don’t have to have the last word – just walk away.