I’m not sure what I was more afraid of: my son loosing his last baby tooth or the entrance of social media into his life. One the one side, “officially” saying goodbye to that baby tooth pulled at all the emotional strings in my body. They reminded me of just how far he come – and how many years around the sun I walked since his birth. I didn’t want to loose my little boy: snuggling with me in the morning, playing hide-and-go seek at night, watching videos about puppies and kittens together. And, on the flip side, I was deeply afraid of my son stepping into the world of social media – or rather social media controlling my son. What would happen to him? Would I truly loose that little boy forever? After all, I’d read all the recent news about the dangers of social media in our kids’ schools and I lived it in my years of being an assistant principal. Honestly, I didn’t see any added value to opening this door for him.
Alas, I am not writing this article to reiterate all the dangers and restate all the horribleness that you already know about social media. This would be the same thing as never talking about safe sex with our kids and then grieving when our kids decide to learn on their own. You are welcome to stop reading if that last sentence struck a cord with you. Instead, this article is about embracing social media not because I like it, but because it is part of our world today.
The Digital Age
In 1995, the internet was becoming more widely available and mobile phones (remember car phones?) were more widely used. AOL was released, email began to be used for communication, and the first digital camera was released. Privacy was an increasing concern and the CDA, or Communications Decency Act, was passed in the U.S. to protect minors from viewing explicit material online. Social media had not yet been developed, making the rise of platforms like Twitter and Facebook in the mid-2000s an unprecedented phenomenon. Our parents, most of them now grandparents if you are reading this article, were standing in the same place we are right now.
Our kids today are growing up in a digital age, where technology and social media are integrated into our lives in ways that were never imaginable. It is important to recognize the potential of how this can be harnessed in a positive way so that our children can benefit from the resources available to them, while still keeping their safety in mind. Social media can be used to expand connections, foster relationships, and build skills that our children can carry into adulthood, making it a tool they should continue to use. However, with this new age of technology, comes a new set of responsibilities — teaching our children how to use it intelligently, safely and in accordance with our values.
Raising children in the digital age is tough, but there are a few essential tips to help parents help their children be mindful and responsible when it comes to social media. Positive Presupposition, Balance, and Modeling Desired Behaviors are key steps in helping children make the right decisions when it comes to their digital interactions. Establishing a set of expectations early on, such as keeping game time in family areas, no closed doors, and a time frame for use, is a great way for kids to understand the importance of online safety and etiquette.
Keys for Balanced Approach
Key #1: Let go of an all-or-nothing approach. An all-or-nothing or zero tolerance approach about social media is not conducive to teaching children responsibility, respect and safety in the digital space. As parents, we need to take it upon ourselves to provide our children with the tools to develop a healthy and mature approach to their digital activities, rather than adopting a black and white perspective with no room for discussion. In today’s society, social media is an integral part of many people’s lives, and we must be realistic in our expectations on how to use it properly and safely. My goal as a parent is to eventually send off my kids into the big world to make a huge, positive impact. I want them to have all the skills they need to do so. Honestly, I’d rather be their teacher about social media – than someone that might not have their best interests in mind.
Key #2: Instead of monitoring every move, take it as an opportunity to build a relationship of trust and understanding. Parenting doesn’t always have to be a scary and daunting task. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, so take the time to nurture your relationship and share the responsibility with your children. It may be daunting, but with a bit of patience and understanding, it can create the perfect balance between protection and exploration. After all, life is too short not to love your parenting journey. Allow your child to have some slack so they can make a mistake (or two). I like to be a partner in my son’s social media world. Instead of spying on him, deleting friends, and monitoring what he is up to, I have decided to be a neutral friend. So, I see what is going on, but I don’t insert myself and I definitely don’t embarrass him (that is an entirely different blog post). Think about it as standing on the street corner while your child walks themselves to a friends’ home or to the school doors. You are in the background. You are aware.
Key #3: Hold a positive presupposition. Constructively use a positive tone when interacting with children about social media use. Start with the assumption that kids will make the best decisions when given the tools to do so.
Key #4: Back to Balance. Finding a balance between protection and exploration is essential for children to develop healthy digital habits. Reasonable restrictions set by parents can ensure that kids are using these tools and platforms safely.
Key #5: Model healthy behaviors yourself. It is important to model the desired online behaviors so that children can understand the importance of digital etiquette. Take the time to emphasize the value of positive communication and how to respond to the platforms and other users appropriately.
Expect Some Eye Rolls
I’ll be honest, there are some serious eye rolls that happen in my home. I know this. I also know that my son is learning how to navigate this world – and I’d rather get eye rolls, then a whole list of other things that could go wrong. There are certainly days when I hear the quintessential, “but my friends’ parents don’t care like you do,” and “why can’t you just be cool and leave me alone.” Well, my response to this: I’m your parent. I love you. One day, when you’re an adult, maybe I’ll fall into the cool category. For now, I’m happy with the balanced approach that I’ve shared with you here. Thus, when it comes to our children and social media, it is essential that we find a balance. We must equip our children with the tools to make and understand responsible decisions on their own, while also emphasizing the importance of safety, privacy and respect when using online platforms. With this approach, our children can benefit from the positives of the digital space, while also learning to use it in a conscientious and thoughtful manner.
If you’re reading this, please like, share, and comment if it feels aligned for you. Also, know that I’m here for you. Please reach out to me here. To live your best parenting life, check out my latest workshops.