Five Things All Social Media Users Should Do

Is it a saving grace for families and friends who can’t connect any other way right now? Or the bane of our existence, giving a platform to bullies, miscreants, and disinformation?

Social media is both. Like any technological development, it brings huge benefits, but has significant downsides and one thing is clear: the platforms may change and evolve, but it’s here to stay.

As someone who works in the marketing and public relations field, social media is an important tool in our arsenal for work, but on a personal level, I’ve also met some wonderful people (largely on Twitter), been able to stay in touch with family who live in different countries and time zones (on Facebook and Instagram), and generally felt the comfort of sharing events – both positive and negative – with people everywhere. But there are some important steps that all of us – and yes, I include myself – can and should take to make social media a better place for everyone. And no, it doesn’t mean you need to refrain from posting news stories and political commentary and limit your posts to puppies and babies. But it does mean you have to take responsibility for what you post.

Here are five things everyone can do to be better social media citizens:

1. READ THE FULL ARTICLE BEFORE REACTING TO THE HEADLINE.

We teach our children that reading and thinking critically are important skills and Spark Notes are no substitute for reading a full article, essay or book. It’s hard: there’s a ton of information out there and it’s overwhelming. And when you see a headline, it’s so tempting to think you know everything you need to know from a few words. But remember that news organizations often create those headlines to gain your emotional reaction, to sensationalize and highlight the best or worst of the findings in the article, and the reporter/author of the piece rarely writes that headline. Very often the headlines are misleading and reading the entire article will make you wonder how that headline got there in the first place. Not only do you owe it to yourself to read a full article to stay informed, you owe it to the rest of your social media audience, not to react to a post before reading the article in full and not to share an article solely based on its headline. Read and think critically about a full article before you post a “like” or a “comment” and most definitely, read and think critically before you share it yourself.

2. TRUTH MATTERS. CHECK BEFORE SHARING.

It takes just a few moments to make sure that what you’re posting is factual. There are many sites where you can quickly check the veracity of everything from those viral “local thief attacking women at gas stations” posts to the memes that tell you a certain celebrity wrote a diatribe on life (they might be nice, but usually not true), to the cooked-up conspiracy theories that, sadly, even our President shares on Twitter. Snopes.com is a good site for the former and Politifact is a good source for the latter. Sadly, in this time of manufactured news, citizen journalism, 24/7 news cycles, opinions masquerading as facts, and the ease with which all of these can be shared with millions of people rapidly, you have to be vigilant and take time to ensure that you’re not an active participant in sharing falsehoods. When you’re reading an article (because – well, we’ve already established you’re now going to read the entire story and not just the headline, right?) be sure to ask yourself if the story is citing proven facts and evidence or opinions and hearsay. We all know (I hope) that there’s a difference between Dr. Anthony Fauci, quoted in a New York Times story, saying “Social distancing will help prevent transmission of coronavirus”, and a meme your uncle posted on Facebook that shows a group of people on a crowded beach with the words “My immune system and my freedom will protect me”. It’s true that those spreading false information are becoming even more clever over time and that’s why number three on this list is so important…

3. SOURCES MATTER. CHECK THEM OUT AND ENSURE THEY ARE CREDIBLE.

If you’re a teacher, you know that students are asked to cite sources when they write papers. And not only are they required to cite those sources, they are asked to ensure that those sources are credible. There’s a reason most teachers don’t allow students to use Wikipedia as a source; it’s a site to which anyone can contribute and no one checks the veracity of the information. So it stands to reason that not all sources of news and information are credible. Ask yourself a few questions when reading – and certainly before posting – an article:

  • Is this story on a site that generally posts real news and information rather than rumors and opinions?
  • Does the site or author of the piece have an agenda or a “side” they are trying to represent in the story?
  • Is the author a journalist – someone who went to school for journalism and is employed as a journalist by a reputable organization?

All of these questions are vital in determining whether you’re reading something written by a credible source with evidence and facts to back up the story, or a poorly-researched and opinionated piece of rhetoric written by, well, anyone.

A recent NPR story reported that researchers have found that nearly half of all Twitter accounts tweeting about coronavirus are likely Bots. They noted:

“Researchers culled through more than 200,000 tweets discussing the virus since January and found that 45% were sent by accounts that behave more like computerized robots than humans.”

What were these accounts tweeting? Be sure to read the full story I’ve linked to, but in short, among the misinformation being spread was 100 false narratives about COVID-19 including conspiracy theories about hospitals being filled with mannequins, or tweets that connected the spread of the virus to 5G.

We know that this is one way Russia interfered in our 2016 election: fake accounts on Facebook and Twitter spreading false information and conspiracy theories. So don’t be the person who reposts or retweets stories and information that are false – particularly those generated from fake accounts. Yes, it takes some vigilance and responsibility, but you can determine fairly easily if an account is fake (check out Botometer on Twitter) and that’s part of being a good social media citizen. And that leads me to number four…

4. BE PART OF THE SOLUTION: REPORT AND ELIMINATE FAKE ACCOUNTS AND FALSE INFORMATION.

Like the “if you see something, say something” signs that we’ve all seen at airports and other places where security is critical, on social media, our ability to sift through the rubbish and find the nuggets of importance and truth depend on everyone being vigilant in the fight against bad information. If you see someone posting information you know to be false, say something (nicely, and if need be, privately). If you find fake accounts on Twitter, report them; Facebook, sadly, seems to take little action on user-reported accounts, and recently, Mark Zuckerberg has said that he doesn’t feel social media platform companies should be held responsible for the content posted on them. That said, they will warn users who have engaged with or reacted to posts that contain misinformation that Facebook believes will cause imminent physical harm. In particular, they’ve applied this to false Coronavirus information circulating on the platform (such as, injecting bleach as a remedy). The hope is that these warnings cause users to stop, read, and make the right decision not to share if the information is deemed false and could cause harm.

The bottom line is that If we’re going to use social media – and remember, we use it for FREE – we need to be active participants in making it a better place to be. Which leads me to my last plea…

5. SUPPORT REAL JOURNALISM

Times are difficult and people are strapped for cash. Not everyone has a job and budgets are being cut.  I get it. Unfortunately, even before this pandemic hit, most of us were used to getting our “information” and “news” for free. The internet is a vast wasteland of free items and we all know the adage “you get what you pay for”. Or in this case, what you don’t pay for. Coronavirus coverage aside – which most reputable publications are offering up to anyone without placing it behind their paywall – good, quality products, made by good, quality people should command a price. This is true in journalism as it is in any other industry.  If you want publications to be able to pay the salaries of top reporters and editors who studied and earned degrees for their craft, you have to be willing to pay for a subscription.  There truly has never been a time in history where good journalism has been so important – even before the pandemic hit and particularly now with the protests happening around our country. Now, more than ever, if you can afford it, please consider supporting valuable publications that employ reputable journalists: NPR, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and more. And while you’re at it, it’s helpful to look outside the U.S. for a global perspective. If you can read the Financial Times, watch BBC News or Al Jazeera, it will open your eyes to how the rest of the world sees issues – and how our own country is viewed by others.

Social media is here to stay and I’ve been just as guilty as the next person of abusing it. But I’m trying hard to practice what I preach every day now: Reading thoroughly and critically, checking sources and facts, pausing before commenting or “liking” a post, ensuring that I not only move away from blatantly false information, but reporting those spreading it – especially those that are clearly fake accounts. And I subscribe to both the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times, and try to read several other valid news sources weekly. We are all citizens of the world and of social media, and therefore, we all have to take responsibility for making it not just a fun, but safe and informative place to spend time.

 

 

I Love LA: In Defense of a City

A funny thing happened last week after the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup for the second time in three years. I suddenly found myself surrounded by a lot of, for lack of a better term, “haters”.

I don’t mean just fans of the San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, Chicago Blackhawks or New York Rangers either. It’s natural that some good, old-fashioned hockey rivalry hatred circulates on the web and social media channels amongst fans and that various reporters, bloggers and experts weigh in and begin debating the pros and cons of the newly-crowned champions.

What I mean – and what was truly unexpected – was the sudden tidal wave of disrespect and dislike for an entire city. A city of nine million people…or 13 million if you want to include the outlying suburbs. A city so diverse that it defies generalizations or at least, so one would think. But the haters came out in full force and unleashed criticisms that were often unfair, always unkind and sometimes just downright ridiculous.

It started as condemnation of what some claim is a lack of sports culture or a “fair-weather” fan environment. Many said that LA has never been and will never be a hockey town and that even fans of the Dodgers, Lakers, Clippers and our college teams are unsupportive, lackadaisical and only loyal when their teams are winning. I buy that LA hasn’t always been supportive of every team. Just as the US was oblivious to the World Cup and the sport of soccer prior to virtually every suburban youth hitting the fields, LA was uneducated and uninterested in hockey until The Great One came to play for us and youth hockey began to take off.

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But beyond the sports culture smack-down, some folks I know claimed that bad fan behavior and dangerous situations are representative of sports in Los Angeles, if not unique to the city. It would take me hundreds of pages to document examples of the same sorts of behaviors occurring in cities throughout the United States (and around the World) – even those that are believed to be the great sports centers of the country, but I have no space to list them all. I would guess that most reasonable people could agree that one fan or one group of fans are not indicative of an entire fan base and that every city has its share of truly terrible fans. I mean, do I need to remind Chicago fans of the time when they all but abandoned their Blackhawks team? Do I need to remind my Bay Area friends of the 3,000-seat drop-off the Sharks experienced in season tickets at one point? Or bring up the time an Oakland Raiders fan beat a Dallas Cowboys fan unconscious? How about this hockey season when some Boston Bruins fans hurled racist comments at Montreal Canadiens’ defenseman, P.K. Subban after Montreal handed the Bruins a loss? Or when those classy Seattle Seahawk fans threw food at an injured SF 49ers player during the NFC championship game their team won?

I’m sorry, folks, but fair weather fandom and bad behavior is not exclusive to ANY city and suffice to say that when you take the behaviors of a few and generalize them to a population of nine million, you’re going to lose a statistical battle, if nothing else.

But beyond this sports talk, what really stunned me during this past week was how this critique of LA’s sports culture was extended to Los Angeles and its people as a whole. Among the things I’ve seen bantered about via social media, papers and general discussions this week (and I’m paraphrasing, but citing the gist of what I’ve heard):

– Sports fans in LA are only concerned about winning and are not loyal to their teams and by extension, people in LA are all about winning.

– Los Angeles is just a self-centered, materialistic city of excess.

– Everyone in LA is overly concerned with their appearance.

– People in LA are more interested in Hollywood than the rest of the world.

– People in LA are more interested in entertainment than education. While sports fans are uninformed about sports, the general population is just uninformed.

– The traffic in LA is terrible.

Well, ok, that last point is thoroughly indefensible and 100% accurate.

I consider myself more experienced than most when it comes to comparing Los Angeles to other cities. Born in Birmingham, Alabama – about as far from Los Angeles and its culture as you can get – I also lived in Atlanta, Georgia, Tampa, Florida, both Dallas and Houston, Texas, Kansas City, Kansas, San Diego, California and San Rafael, California. I can tell you firsthand that while each place has its pros and cons, there’s no place I’d rather live than right here in Los Angeles.

I spent my college years at UCLA where I witnessed firsthand the diverse population of the city, made lifelong friends, developed a fierce loyalty to both my school and its sports teams and got a great education that has served me well throughout my career. If there was a lack of diversity, a worship of entertainment over education or a dearth of loyalty, I certainly did not experience it there.

Is there materialism, excess and superficiality in Los Angeles? Absolutely. And yes, perhaps, because LA is both the entertainment capital of the world and a city blessed with incredible weather and beautiful beaches where folks spend an inordinate amount of time in very little clothing, there is more concern over appearance in this city than most. But I can tell you firsthand that of my friend and acquaintance circle, I know just as many women (and men!) in Silicon Valley getting Botox injections as those in LA. I can tell you that I never felt more excluded and judged based on my appearance than I did in a mall in Dallas, Texas where every woman wore heels and full makeup to go shopping and I was scolded for not owning a Neiman-Marcus card. And speaking of cities that can’t sustain professional teams and display a certain, blasé attitude toward sports, how about Birmingham (or any city) in Alabama?

The point is, Los Angeles is not unique in having its share of materialistic, wealth and appearance-obsessed denizens, nor is it unique in having some bad, fair weather and, frankly, moronic fans. But to take these as representative of the City of Angels is truly to miss the heart and soul of the city. Indeed, I’ve met my share of fake socialites, corporate ladder climbers and collagen-lipped housewives, but I’ve surrounded myself with a larger population of friends who believe in working hard, who don’t spend money on plastic surgery, who value education and who root for their hometown teams. These include friends I made in college, neighborhood families that I’ve become close with through my children, work colleagues and a very large population of Kings fans that I’ve come to know and appreciate via the wonders of social media. These are good people who all appreciate and love their city, as I do. Everyday, I consider myself fortunate to be surrounded by a beautiful community that spans the Santa Monica mountains to the beaches of Malibu on one end, the Hollywood Hills and hubbub of downtown on the other, with so many remarkable places in-between. The valley, the South Bay, the campuses of both UCLA and USC (yes, a Bruin said that!), the Coliseum, the fabulous Forum, the Santa Monica pier, the streets of Westwood, Los Feliz, the Hollywood Bowl, the Greek Theatre, the Los Angeles Zoo, Griffith Park, the recently-discovered and wonderfully-working Metrorail(!), Universal City, Venice boardwalk and canals…I won’t go on because it would take all day.

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My husband and I have talked frequently about the sacrifices we’ve made to live in expensive Southern California. Had we stayed in Dallas for 10 years, we would have saved a bundle and maybe we’d be on the verge of retirement. Instead, we’ve both worked continuously to have an opportunity to raise our family in Los Angeles. It’s not for everyone and that’s ok with me – in fact, with our always-expanding population and popularity, I’m more than happy for people to continue disliking LA and leave it for the rest of us who love it here. At the end of the day, LA is my city and I’m proud to be an Angeleno. I love LA.

 

It’s a New Year…How about those Resolutions from the Last Year?

And so, it’s January again.  Time to take stock and look back at the New Year’s resolutions that have come and gone. While I say I’m not one to make resolutions, I did, in fact, make a small list of things I wanted to work on last year.  How’d I do? Well, let’s just say that of the six I listed in last New Year’s blog post, I probably made some minimal progress on three of them. Hey, that’s a solid half, right?!

The issue with resolutions is that, once made, we need checkpoints to assess how we’re progressing and take action when we’re not making progress. Just like at work, there are certain milestones that need to be checked off the list and progress reports, if you like, need to be turned in.  I don’t know about you, but given I have to be accountable for these kinds of activities at work, I’m not likely to hold myself to that same structure on the personal front!

How, then, do we actually resolve and take action to improve certain areas of our life? It seems trite to simply say “I plan to be a better person in 2014”, but really, that’s the heart of it all, isn’t it?  Being kinder. Less irritable. More patient. Less hurried. More giving. Less judgmental. More understanding. Less stressed.

So this year, I’m going to give myself a break from the traditional list, knowing full well that putting in place the measurements necessary to ensure success is something I just won’t take the time to do.  I resolve in 2014 only this: to be a better person, in whatever way I can be.  That means taking time to connect with those I care about, rather than getting too wrapped up in the minute details of the day. It means making sure that all my good intentions don’t remain just that…that I occasionally take action and give to that charity, spend time doing something that yields no personal return for me or simply deciding to be understanding, rather than judgmental in situations that test my patience.  It means ignoring the insufferable, materialistic social media posts that clutter my news feeds and remembering that my family values experiences over things. Maybe it’s as simple as letting that car cut in front of me without swearing to myself or giving a stranger in the grocery store a complement, just because.

I know. It sounds like a lot of rainbows and fluffy puppy talk. But sometimes I think the world could use a little more of that. And a little less of the standard “10 Ways to Improve Your Life”.

Happy New Year, everyone. Enjoy 2014, however you resolve to do so.

New Year’s Resolutions for Even the Most Non-Resolute

imagesI’m not a big believer in New Year’s Resolutions. I’ve always thought that if you really want to do something in life, make time for or accomplish something, you’ll eventually (to coin a Nike marketing phrase) just do it. There’s no time like the present and New Year’s Day or not, if you truly want to do something, you’ll do it and if not, well, maybe you don’t want it as badly as you’d originally thought. That said, there’s something about a new year, a fresh start, a clean white board, that gives one a tiny bit more motivation, that extra push to get a long languishing project moving.

In goal-setting, it’s always important to break big goals into smaller, more realistic steps and the same holds true for resolutions. You could resolve to be a better person….but specifically, how? You could resolve to be more organized, but what steps can you take to get there?

Pushing aside the notion that resolutions need to be daunting tasks that can only be thought of once a year, I’ve made a small, starting list for myself that I hope will have some impact.

1) I resolve that each time I want to curse silently – or not so silently – at an impolite or even dangerous driver on the road, I will take a deep breath and remind myself that they win when I feel stress.

2) I resolve that every time I think about calling, emailing, texting or otherwise reaching out to a friend or loved one I haven’t connected with in awhile that instead of saying I’ll do it later when I’m not busy (as if!), I will take five minutes to actually reach out or, at the very least, I will put it on the to-do list with an actual deadline so it becomes a priority.

3) I resolve to focus more and multi-task less.  The phone doesn’t need to be constantly in hand, the texts can wait and no reason to try to “save time” by responding to emails while on conference calls. Constant multi-tasking creates more stress and even more work. Better to focus on one thing at a time…unless of course it’s folding laundry while watching TV!

4) I resolve to walk past the mess and clutter in the house at least once a week without stressing out, picking it up or yelling at someone about it.  Life’s too short, right?!

5) I resolve to have books, music, writing, exercising and conversation add up to more hours each day than any time spent on social media. I’m talking to you, new Pinterest addiction!

6) I resolve to put forth energy and action for at least one cause I believe in, rather than just ranting about it or reposting rants on Facebook and Twitter. Action speaks louder than words.

Are you making any resolutions this year? Do you think it’s a useful practice. Happy New Year and all the best to you and yours in 2013!

Rejecting the Kindle: Why I Still Need Real Books

Cover of "Kindle Wireless Reading Device,...
Cover via Amazon

Having been both an avid reader and a fan of technology most of my life, it would seem that jumping on the e-reader bandwagon would be a no-brainer for me. I’ve worked in technology for more than 20 years and have embraced it all the way. Between all of us, my family owns five Mac laptops, four iPhones, a desktop Mac, an iPad and a PC (only because I have to for work). We all use a variety of social media and applications including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. In other words, there is no technology resistance around these parts.And yet, I just can’t seem to bring myself to make the jump to e-readers.

I figured that owning the iPad would bridge that gap. I wouldn’t have to switch to purchase a reading-specific device like the Kindle; with the iPad, I could use all of my familiar applications and start making the transition to downloading and reading books on that beautiful device. I’ve tried it exactly twice and while I did manage to finish the two books I downloaded, the experience left me…well, cold.

There’s something about the feel of a book, the smell of the paper – whether it’s bookstore-new or an old classic that has been handed down and sitting on a shelf for years. The weight of a the hard cover, the examination of the artwork, the reading of the inside flaps and back-of-book blurbs. Even paperbacks have a charm totally lacking from the sterile screen of its e-reader cousins.

I can’t quite give up the thrill of browsing a bookstore and picking up each title, trying to decide which one to read.  I still love having my own library of books at home, browsing the shelves that hold both new and old. My worn copy of  Gone with the Wind, spine still intact, but pages yellowing, brings back memories of learning to love books at the ripe age of 10. My collection of used paperback classics with their highlighted passages and folded corners recall hours spent in Royce Hall classrooms and Powell library, dissecting characters, motivations and themes. Each spine on the shelf  represents not just the story contained within, but a story that is uniquely mine.  I can’t quite get that same feeling from a collection of electronic files residing on a mobile device.

I know, I know…the Kindle and its ilk are the future. It’s great for traveling, you can pop it conveniently into your purse or bag and take it anywhere. If someone gives you a great tip on a new book, there’s no ordering from Amazon or driving to the Barnes & Noble or heading to the library to see if it’s available – in just a few clicks, it’s all yours. Immediate gratification.

I guess in this world of fast-paced, 24×7, mobile and always-on living, it seems silly or quaint to want to curl up on the couch with an old-fashioned book. And I’m sure eventually, the e-reader will win me over. For now, I have a stack of books to turn to, each one ready to tell me a story. So call me old-fashioned. Or call me Ishmael. I’m just going to keep turning real pages for now.

Summertime….and the Livin’ Should be Easy

It has been more than two weeks since my last post and I can only blame it on…summertime. That’s right, it’s all summer’s fault with its lazy, long days that meld into night, the intoxicating smell of a neighbor’s barbecue at sunset mixed with the faint fragrance of summer flowers, the way the sun emerges from the June gloom daring you to come out and play instead of sitting at your desk all day.

Well, it’s not entirely summer’s fault. It’s true that I’ve chosen long walks in the sunshine, dinners in the backyard, sipping wine and conversing until the darkness forces us inside, and hours in the patio chair with a good book over more productive pursuits.  And of course, my older daughter is home for one week before she heads back to college and summer swim training, so I’m trying to squeeze the most out of every second that she is here.

I am trying my best to enjoy the quiet moments and the slightly slower pace that summer allows. Those who know me know that my very nature fights against a relaxed pace, that I am forever looking to “do”.  During the summer, though, a little voice seems to whisper that life is fleeting, that savoring the moments is the smart pursuit, that maybe in the slow-down, my mind and body can regenerate and renew, preparing me for the inevitable onslaught of Fall, when there will be plenty of time for productivity.

A recent NY Times blog entitled “The ‘Busy’ Trap” echoed my sentiments and made the point that Americans in the 21st century, in particular, are constantly self-imposing this “busyness” upon themselves. I plead guilty to what the author describes. It’s true I have plenty of activities to stay naturally busy: I work full-time, have two daughters, and attempt to pursue a second, part-time career by taking classes and working on my writing.  But the pace at which I live my life means that I sometimes try to fill those scarce, quiet moments when they present themselves with even more activity. In living a life of productivity, I realize I sometimes forget the pleasure in doing nothing at all.

I would argue that social media has enhanced our desire to be constantly busy.  We’ve all had to endure the postings of folks who really don’t have much going on in their lives and frankly, no one wants to hear about the fiber content of your breakfast cereal, how many hours you spent at the gym today, that you’re out of toothpaste or that your child finally went “poop on the potty” (yes, these are all real posts). That said, social media can make us feel that we must have something to say at all times, that we should be doing something exciting or productive at every moment — something worth proclaiming (or tweeting and posting, in this case) at the top of our lungs to show the world how busy we are and most of all, I suppose, that we are relevant.

So, I took a two-week break from writing, from the wheel of constant productivity, to try to sit back and enjoy the moments that are not filled with “something to do”.  I’m the first to admit that I’m not very good at it. I like being productive, being involved, contributing…yes, being busy. But it’s summertime. And I’m going to try my best to soak it up.

The One Thing You Should Never Give Up When You Become a Mom

As a popular post that has been making its way around Facebook proclaims, being a Mom means giving up many things, but it’s one of the most rewarding jobs you could ever have. When your children are small, it’s about giving up things like sleep, spontaneity and spending more than five minutes in the shower. In their teenage years it can mean giving up your ability to relax until you hear the car pull into the garage and when your kids are ready for college, it might mean giving up your retirement plans just to fund their tuition.

But there’s one thing you should never give up: yourself.

In a recent study of 1,300 moms, the American Psychological Association (APA) found that moms who work – either part-time or full-time – are healthier and happier. Now, I’m not about to fight the battle of working mom vs stay-at-home mom, as I truly believe that each family has to decide what works best for them, and certainly, I’ve known working moms who are miserable and stay-at-home moms who are very happy. But I think the study makes an important point about maintaining balance and a sense of self- something that working moms may find easier to do. It’s no surprise that the happiest stay-at-home moms I know are those who have something going on outside the home that is just for them whether it’s a hobby, a volunteer position or a pursuit of higher education. These moms almost always have good relationships with supportive spouses who share the parenting responsibilities, as well.

I don’t think there’s a mom out there who would argue with the idea that being a mom is their most important job. That said, as the APA study underscores, there’s a great danger in allowing your life to revolve solely around your kids.  And it turns out, this lifestyle is not only bad for you, but it wreaks havoc on your little ones, too. A recent article in the Huffington Post examined parents who are overly involved in their children’s lives and can’t let go – the so-called “helicopter” parents. Many moms think they are being great parents by doing everything for their kids and shielding them from the harsh realities of the world. While we all want to protect our children from truly bad situations, it turns out that if we shelter them from making mistakes and facing consequences, they will be ill-equipped to handle college life, job interviews and the day-to-day responsibilities of living on their own in our big, complex world.

So how do you determine if you’re sliding down this slippery slope of focusing so much on your kids that you lose yourself in the process?  I thought of a few questions that might be helpful…

1) Who was I before I had kids and who will I be when they are gone?  If you’re a working mom, you probably have an easier time with this question, as your daily life, by necessity, includes non-child related activities and your job is probably an important part of your identity.  There are plenty of stay-at-home moms who have successfully answered this question, too, finding a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction through volunteer work, classes to further their education or through hobbies that give them that important sense of self-accomplishment.  If you don’t have any of these things in your life and find that all you can think about and talk about are your kids, ask yourself: who was I before carpools, homework and diaper changes took over my life? Were you an avid reader? A passionate chef? A cyclist?  A theater-goer? You need to revisit the things that made you, YOU. After all, our most important job as parents is, ultimately, to transform our little jewels into successfully independent adults. And this depends on you letting them go — a task that will be much easier if there’s still a YOU left when they’re gone.

In addition, part of who you were pre-kids was probably a spouse or significant other and hopefully, it still is. But there are countless stories of marriages that end right after the last child moves out. Why? Because when your life revolves solely around your children, there’s no room for your relationship with your partner. Letting your relationship languish while the kids are still around means it will be difficult to pick up the pieces once they are gone. So make sure that the part of you that is separate from your mommy identity spends time with that other person who lives in your household.

2) Are you confusing your kids’ accomplishments with your own?  Social media has made it easy for the parents who live vicariously through their children to show their true colors. Facebook posts like “Johnny got straight As again!” or even worse, “WE got straight As again!” are the obvious red flags.

Now before you yell at me, I know, I know…it’s natural for us to take pleasure and satisfaction in our children’s accomplishments (and sorrow in their defeat) – that’s part of the joy (and grief) of parenting. And it’s natural to want to brag a little when your kids accomplish truly great things – I am as guilty as anyone on that count. But if you find you’re touting only your children’s activities and accomplishments as if they were your own and have nothing to say that begins with the word “I”, it’s time to ask yourself what you’ve accomplished lately that didn’t involve your child.

3) If you’re a Mom, you’re a role model…but what are you modeling?  In a previous post, I talked about the problem with the “do as I say, not as I do” mentality and why, if you want your kids to exercise for example, you need to show them that it’s important to you, too, by letting them see you sweat occasionally.  Similarly, as your child’s primary role model, day in and day out, shouldn’t you consider what behaviors you are modeling that will help your child become an interesting, successful and independent adult? Do you have a variety of interests outside of what your kids do everyday? Do they see you working, reading, attending classes, volunteering, voting, supporting causes, being interested in the world at large?  Do they see you going out with friends and most of all, your significant other, thereby modeling what good relationships look like?   It’s pretty clear that what we parents view as important has a profound impact on what our children view as important. If you have no interests outside of your children, what are you modeling for them?

4) If you do it all, how will they learn to do it for themselves?  Having a laser focus on your kids can become a problem for them, as well as you. Let’s say your child is in 6th grade and you still wake her up every morning, pick out her clothes for her, make her breakfast, pack her lunch and check her backpack to be sure she has everything she needs. Let’s say she calls from school to tell you she has forgotten an English paper and you rush over to deliver it, lest she face the teacher’s wrath or have points taken off for a late assignment. And let’s imagine that after school, when you’ve questioned her about her day, checked through her backpack to see what she has for homework and then taken her back and forth to dance or soccer or whatever her activity of choice may be, you spend the evening researching summer camps, and emailing her teachers and coaches to find out how she’s doing.

While this case study is fictional, I’m certain it’s not too far off of some real-life examples. The point is when you look at this day, you can see there is no YOU in it. More importantly, there is no opportunity for your child to learn, take responsibility and yes, fail, because after all, making mistakes in life is how we learn.

I wouldn’t give up being a mom for anything and I know I’m not alone in that feeling. But I love that it’s one of many hats I wear and that my kids know that I’m also a spouse, a friend, a reader, a writer, a marketing consultant, a student and many more things. To me, one of the greatest joys of parenthood is watching my own kids try on different hats as they evolve into independent adults with their own complex and many-faceted identities. I sure hope that if and when they become moms themselves and realize the sacrifices required, they’ll be sure not to sacrifice the one thing they shouldn’t – themselves.

Get on board the technology train…or get left behind.

If you have a teenager in your house, you probably don’t need this Los Angeles Times article to confirm that teens are texting more and using traditional phone calls less. Use of land lines is rapidly declining, given the ubiquity of smartphones in every household, and teens are leading the charge when it comes to use of social media like Facebook and Twitter – not surprising to anyone who has 12-18 year olds in their home. The question is, are you using these tools yourself and if not, why?

I have a friend – let’s call her Margie – who refuses to participate in any social media. She has declined to join Facebook or Twitter and doesn’t even like email because “it’s all one big time-suck” and she isn’t interested in connecting with “ex-boyfriends from high school” or “posting personal stuff”. Fair enough. Those of us who use social media or have children who do, know that it certainly can be a huge waste of time and must be monitored. As for connecting with people from your past you’d rather not talk to or posting personal information you’d rather not share, I’d argue that is all at the discretion of the user – you can choose not to accept requests to connect and not to post things you’d rather not share. The thing is, I can’t help but feel that my friend is missing out on a valuable opportunity to understand and connect with her kids (and others), not to mention, protect her little ones from the dangers of the cybersphere.

Let’s use another example from a population even more reluctant to connect: seniors. I’ve been trying to convince my Dad to use email, join Facebook or just play with a computer for years.  He has the computer-phobia that is typical for many of his generation, a fear of “breaking” the computer if he touches it. I’ve tried explaining that he really can’t “break” anything, but his fear of the new and unfamiliar is hard to overcome. Since my kids and I rarely have time for a weekly two-hour phone call to fill him in on our lives – particularly now that my oldest is in college – I can’t help but feel that he, too, is missing out on a valuable means of staying connected with us.

For anyone who has been shying away from the technology of the 21st century, as Margie and my Dad have, I’d like to offer three good reasons why you should move forward and jump into the fray:

1)    Your kids need guidance and protection as they navigate the cyber world. It’s hard to protect your kids from something you, yourself, don’t understand.  If you aren’t familiar with how Facebook works, how can you provide the proper guidance so your children learn to use it wisely?  I know many parents who signed up for Facebook so they could be ‘friends” with their children, but don’t really understand how to use it themselves. They haven’t figured out, for example, that simply being friends with their children doesn’t mean they are seeing everything that is posted to their kids’ Facebook wall. In an age of cyber-bullying and Internet predators, it goes without saying that you want to make sure your kids are safe in cyberspace and are acting as responsible cyber citizens themselves. But did you also know that colleges and employers now routinely patrol applicants’ Facebook pages and other social media to ensure they know just who they are accepting/hiring?  At the university where my daughter is a student-athlete, the athletic department actually employs a full-time person to monitor the athletes’ social media, ensuring that they don’t post inappropriate content. Furthermore, a recent AP story reported that some employers want to require applicants to hand over their Facebook, Linked In and other social media passwords before they will hire them. This may be an overreach (not to mention, an invasion of privacy), but it points to the importance of teaching your kids how to properly use social media. If you don’t know the ins and outs of using it, how can you possibly impart those skills to them?

2)    Technology can actually bring you closer to those you love. It may seem counter-intuitive, but technology can bring you closer to the people in your life. I’m a big believer in putting away the cell phones and turning off the TV every night at dinner, and spending time with your family and friends away from phones and computers. That said, technology can absolutely help you stay in touch and feel connected to your family, friends and community.  Now that my oldest is away at school, I’m so thankful for texting, Twitter, Facebook and Skype – all of which have helped me embrace her independence and still feel that I’m a part of her life.  My husband’s parents – at the ripe old ages of 82 and 89 – recently acquired an iPad and began using Facebook. They are thrilled to be a part of their children’s and grandchildren’s lives in ways they never were before – viewing videos of their grandkids’ swim meets, photos of school events, skyping with them so they can actually see how much they’ve grown since the last visit, and conversing via email or Facebook posts whenever they want, with no concern for the 9-hour time difference. While all of this technology can’t replace a face-to-face visit, it certainly helps to fill in the gaps between visits in a way that wasn’t possible twenty years ago.

3)    Technology keeps you informed, can help your business, and it’s fun!  Despite my 20+ years in technology, I’m pretty traditional. I still like to read the Sunday paper – in print – with my coffee and I still buy hard cover books. That said, I love that when I’m traveling, I can sit in the airport and scroll through my Twitter-feed and very quickly get up-to-speed on the news of the day. There’s a reason why so many companies worldwide now employ social media directors – entire social media departments, in fact – to use and manage these tools. These organizations have discovered that Facebook, Twitter and the like can connect them with customers, partners and clients, and can help get their message out quickly and cost-effectively. Finally, technology is just plain, fun. Why else would your kids want to spend hours of their time on their laptops, smartphones and tablets surfing the web, tweeting, posting photos on Instagram and using Facebook chat?  I’m not suggesting you let them have free reign, of course, nor should you use technology unchecked. Technology can be addicting, as this San Francisco Chronicle article points out, and most kids are using smartphones and social media long before they are emotionally and intellectually ready to handle the responsibility. That’s why it’s so important for you to not only understand and guide their technology usage, but to be a good role model in your own use of technology.

At the end of the day, I’m not sure I’ll convince Margie to join Facebook or my Dad to try Skype, but there’s no question in my mind that the technology train has left the station, and those willing to take a ride will benefit the most.