Part of being human is our ability to hope, to cultivate positivity out of tragedy. Sonya Ryan knows this better than most. The Carly Ryan Foundation was set up by Sonya in the wake of her daughter Carly's cruel and untimely death, and exists to promote online safety and reduce the abuse of children nationally. Carly's story is the connector or bridge to Sonya's community, and the art of storytelling is therefore invaluable to her.
From launching their own personal safety app to developing Carly's Law, Sonya and her team embrace the digital world but advocate an educated and empowered approach to its use. An extraordinary woman, Sonya embodies the 110% commitment and focus required to "be the drop" and I was honoured she took time out of her jam-packed schedule to speak to me.
In today’s episode of Be The Drop, Sonya discusses dogged determination, talks about positive connection, and reveals the best way to approach online safety with your children...
Stay connected to the real world.
Sonya doesn't hate the internet. But she does advocate caution in the use of it. "The internet's not bad. These platforms were created to connect; it opens up the world. The problem is criminals migrating into this space. The problem isn't the patforms themselves."
The importance of face to face communication and staying connected to the real world around us is multi-layered and cannot be overstated for Sonya. "Misinterpretation often comes about when face-to-face human interaction is missing. This in itself can cause problems for children with anxiety and depression.
"Plus, it's not healthy for anything to have such a hold on you. Don't spend so much time on your phone. Have that balance. Make time for real life connection and conversation."
Sonya's Be The Drop top tip is regular, clear, non-judgemental communication between parents and children. "Remind your kids what's motivating your questions and concern. Make sure you're communicating that always, so that connection isn't lost, 'cos once you lose it it's really hard to get back."
Why is storytelling different to fact sheets? Because you feel it. You can relate directly to that person's experience.
Head to our Facebook page for more Be The Drop content and behind the scenes videos! Listen to Sonya's podcast episode here:
Take responsibility, take control.
This is two-fold. As a parent, we must take responsibility for the devices and internet service we're paying for and are therefore entitled to set boundaries on their use. Sonya talked about a 'Family Contract' containing agreed terms around what is shared and not shared, time spent online, and common sense guidelines around the use of the internet. If children breach the family contract, you can remove their entitlements to the internet.
This approach teaches one very important lesson, Sonya says. That there are consequences to actions. "There's a lack of responsiblity in this generation. Young people need to learn that if they do something, there might be a negative outcome. Nobody's perfect and everyone makes mistakes. But then you take responsiblity for those mistakes and make different choices next time."
Educated = empowered.
Sonya clearly communicates the message that education is the key to tackling this issue. "Without creating fear, it's about creating that education and awareness so that you're prepared. Some parents are terrified of social media; what we're trying to do is reduce the fear and get families to understand it's quite easy to learn about these platforms. Getting that education empowers a parent to make better choices."
Be empowered by knowledge and be informed when making your choices.
Besides social media training for parents, emotional intelligence education for teenagers is also important. "Murder isn't the only issue; it could be social exclusion, low self-esteem... especially when these children are striving to have the most appealing-looking life on social media (the most likes, the most followers, the best selfie) - they feel as though they're not good enough without these measures of what they see as success."
As well as providing factsheets on whatever platform or app your child might be using, the Foundation also delivers education seminars to schools and parents around the country. "Kids are actually recommending their parents go to these seminars! That then creates communication and connection because there's no longer this void between child and parent; it's an open discussion. Suddenly they're speaking the same language."
Love is the most important connection we have; it's really important to nurture that and look after it.
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