21st century parenting is complicated. Social media platforms have stormed onto the scene in the last fifteen years, completely changing the way that both parents and kids interact with peer groups and the wider world. Gone are the days of notes passed in class or phone calls to update far away family members on how life is going, now kids text each other and parents post videos on social media.
The online environment can in many ways be a blessing. It allows us to connect with people who have shared interests, interests like fencing. It allows us to connect with family and friends. It allows us to document our children and their accomplishments. However it can also be a curse. It’s easy to fall into negativity in the online world or to post things without thinking. Not only that, online interactions make anonymous bullying easier and can make our connections less real and more virtual.
For better or for worse, social media is here to stay. How it shapes our lives and the lives of our kids is up to us. Here are seven social media guidelines for fencers and their families.
1. Why are you posting this?
The great thing about social media is that it lets you say anything at all that you want to say. The bad thing about social media is that it lets you say anything that you want to say. Make sure your motivation are on point before you put anything up. If your purpose is to make someone look bad, then it’s not in your best interest to post something about you or your child.
This can come in subtle way. Showing off your child’s fencing tournament success is one thing. Bragging about them is another. Giving support to your fencing team is a great thing. Putting down your opponents is not ok. What’s the reason that you reach for that phone to put something up? Make sure that your intentions are what you want them to be and don’t ever post without thinking.
2. The fencer is the number one priority
Being public about grievances in particular doesn’t help you or your child. There is absolutely nothing to be gained from going online and venting about what you felt to be unfair at a fencing competition or some treatment from a fencing coach that seemed less than equitable to you. Yes, unloading frustration in a Facebook status can feel like letting off steam in the moment, but it’s putting the fencer’s needs below the needs of the parent.
In the relationships with coaches, referees, and the fencing club, it’s the child that matters more than anything else. Carefully consider how anything you post will affect your child or other fencers. Oftentimes the people that we think we’re defending would rather we kept our thoughts in our brains and off the internet.
3. If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, don’t say it online
Even if you know the people you’re interacting with online in real life, it can feel like they’re not connected online. Our brains are literally separating the people on the internet from who they are offline. When you reach to put up a picture or to vent a frustration, ask yourself if you would say this to this person in real life or show this picture to a stranger in real life.
We are all guilty of saying things from behind our phones or keyboards that we would never say in person. It’s the nature of the platform. The trick is be honest with yourself and to consciously connect the online world to the real world ramifications that it can have.
4. Give yourself a cooldown period.
Say your child gets knocked out of the first DE round in a major competition. It came down to one last point with your child and their opponent staying tied throughout the direct elimination match, and at the buzzer both fencers seem to touch at the same time, but the ref calls a point only for the opponent and your child loses. You drove six hours each way for this competition and took off work to go. Your child is frustrated and you are frustrated. You feel the call is unfair and that your child deserved to go on to the next round.
Angry and hurt, you reach for your phone while you wait for the competition to go on, and you scroll over your social media. It would be feel good for your online acquaintances to buoy you with some positive feedback, so you start to write something about how the ref called the last point unfairly. STOP. DO NOT POST. In the heat of that moment, it seem justified and a reasonable thing to do. It isn’t.
Give yourself a rule of waiting for twenty-four hours before putting anything online following a dust up at a competition. The emotions of the moment can get the best of the best fencing parent, as we’re human after all! Instead of letting your emotions go, give yourself a day to think about it and come down. 99 times out of 100 you’ll decide that it wasn’t such a big deal after all.
This is a great rule of thumb in competition or training in general. Unless you can do something about it (like have your child’s coach challenge a call), it’s not helpful in the slightest to go in as soon as something happens. Give yourself time to see what’s being driven by emotion and what’s logical.
5. Trust the experts
The people who are experienced in fencing, either as coaches or as referees, know what they’re doing. You don’t always have to agree with everything they say, and you certainly don’t have to keep quiet about problems that you have with yourself or with your child, but you should always respect that these people have a level of expertise that you most likely do not possess.
If you are unhappy about something that has to do with you or your child’s fencing, there is a chain of command to get your problems heard. Within a club that might start with a one-on-one conversation with the coach, then speaking to the management. In a competition that might mean talking to the referee first and then addressing the head referee or the bout committee.
The point here is that you can and should trust the process and the sport of fencing. It’s not perfect, but it’s a workable system.
6. Remember the internet is forever
What you put online gets a life of its own. Once the cat is out of the bag, the cat is out and there’s no putting it back in. Posts on social media get screenshot, comments get visibility, word of mouth spreads online like lightning, even when it’s false.
If you get angry about a fencer from another club and go post a negative review on Google when you’re highly frustrated, that review affects that club in deep and lasting ways, even if you change your mind and take your review down. The same thing goes for your child’s coach or opponent. Word of mouth is potent and much of fencing runs on it.
Don’t let a moment’s frustration have lasting consequences. Always, always remember that once something is online, it’s out of your control. You can’t take it back.
7. Praise the good, keep quiet about the bad
You will never, never go wrong if you keep things positive. Talk about how wonderful your child fenced or how great your teammate did, never about how bad the opponents were.
Yes, there have shockingly been multiple cases of adult parents in youth sports going online and saying terrible things about children. Children! No parent should ever talk about another person’s child in a negative way. It serves no purpose other than to make everyone involved feel badly.
This includes vague posts. It’s still being negative if you don’t name the people directly, because people will figure things out quickly. That’s especially true in a small sport like fencing where the tight knit community lends itself to close connections. Things like “The ref today was terrible” or a picture with a caption like “Jeez coach stop talking and get fencing” are inappropriate. This kind of online behavior is a form of trolling, and it’s easy to fall into it.
While these seven guidelines can certainly boil down to basic common sense, this is a new world of technology and connection that makes common sense seem less common. Using social media and online communication comes with plenty of rewards for fencers, but always be conscious of what you’re doing.
Your actions are a model for what your children will do as they get older. Be fair to them and act online the way that you’d want your kids to act or your own mom to be proud of.
When in doubt, wait it out! Give yourself time to think about what you’re posting. Twitter and Facebook aren’t going anywhere.