The following is a reproduction of the text from a conference for parents on the theme of managing healthy relationships in the digital world. It was delivered by María Álvarez de las Asturias, an expert in family orientation. For many years, her professional work has involved education about emotions, along with mediation and resolution of family conflicts. We have maintained the colloquial tone she used in this transcription, and have included links to the video clips she used as aids.
Below I will propose a few criteria for evaluation and implementation that can help establish healthy relationships in the digital world. Through a few video clips on YouTube, thanks to the efficacy of their images, we will also be able see how these criteria are both illustrated and well supported.
Value Positive Elements
In today’s world, we have many digital instruments at our fingertips that can help us improve our personal relationships. The question is how we can manage to use these means best. Both extremes, refusing them or using them in a compulsive way, do not help. In fact, not everyone knows how to put them to good use, as this ironic video shows quite well.
Some positive elements reside in our ease of resolving practical questions without physical moving ourselves. We save lots of time, for example, and have the possibility of accessing information and of getting in contact with people who would have otherwise been impossible to reach because of distance.
What is more, technology can help improve our personal relationships. We
can get back in contact with people we have lost touch with: school or
University friends and old work colleagues are easy to find on groups like
Facebook, LinkedIn, and WhatsApp. They also help us maintain certain
closeness with people with whom we are still in contact, but with whom we
do not or cannot have face to face interaction every day. In this way it is
possible to keep our relationships up to date (with a message, a picture,
or news to talk about when we see each other in person) as well as to
manage not to lose the events that happen in our lives in the time between
our meetings. All of this, in any case,
does not substitute personal relationships.
Adapt to the Specific “Language” of Each Media
We should not forget. It can be useful to keep in mind that every media possesses its own language, its own grammar aimed at an specific communication. On Twitter, for example, having only 140 characters at your disposition, it is difficult to go deeper into arguments. In fact, if we are dealing with complex or particularly complicated questions, there is no room for nuances and the risk of messing up is high.. WhatsApp should not be used for discussions about personal topics that require vis à vis interaction, and much less when you need to hear the tone being expressed; let’s not forget that the receiver decodes messages starting with his subjective perception, and can get a meaning/significance/implication that the sender did not mean.
Make Friends on the Web
Relationships that are born from Internet connection can be very positive. Nevertheless, it is important to establish them in an appropriate way. Below, I propose a few guidelines that can help us when creating new relationships with people we meet through social networks:
a) Knowing someone takes time. There is no rush. Let’s not share important or personal things with a person that we have just met, since we cannot know who he is nor to what end he can use the information we provide . It is important to be prudent in fixing the first appointment. If you make an appointment to meet a person that you met exclusively online, it is good to meet in a public place and that people close to you are aware of the meeting. Better yet, it is advisable to bring someone with you.
b) More and more frequently we experience difficulties due to the fact that we share intimate aspects of our lives without giving them their proper importance, such as affective dependences, etc.. Modesty is both physical and psychological: someone’s gaze can be intrusive, just as their questions can go beyond what we are prepared to answer. For this reason it is important to take care of own private life. What aspects of your life do you share, and with whom? Which pictures? It is important to keep in mind that, today, everything shared on the internet will remain there forever. Before, it was possible to remove a photograph that for one reason or another, we didn’t want to save anymore. Now it is not so easy to exercise this control, which has consequences. If I have a relationship with someone, we take excessive pictures together, and later leave each other, it could happen that this someone could easily send those pictures to the person with whom I am in a new relationship. We shouldn’t forget that what can seem like nothing to us today, remains recorded forever. If you ever drank, smoked, or did anything else with your friends as a joke, later (outside of that context) it might not be possible to justify your playful behavior and actions done as jokes. Not to mention the fact that those things can also be manipulated towards quite different ends.
c) What happens when we find that we must break off a relationship? In every break up, in order to recover self-esteem and freedom of heart, an emotional distance is necessary even beyond physical distance. This is so difficult today given that we also need to make the decision to disconnect ourselves from that person on all the social media. We need to make the decision. In fact, it is not enough to think “it’s been a long time since we’ve seen each other” when we continue to be “hooked,” and to look at their Facebook page, follow their Twitter, or other similar things. It is necessary to put real distance between us to be able to regain freedom of heart.
My advice for establishing healthy relationships is to put order in one’s own digital world and to be free to use it in the best way possible. As for everything that regards feelings and desires, it is not enough to simply follow our impulses. They must also pass through the filters of reason and will in order to choose whether to follow them or not.
And this, in my opinion, is a good place to learn to use social networks:
(*) Instituto Coincidir; Eduardo Navarro, Fundación Desarrollo y Persona