I need to come clean and say I personally love all the technological advances of today and embrace each new gadget, gizmo and the apps on all of them with aplomb. I totally get my kids’ desires to be part of the online world. But I have also seen the dangers it can cause if they wade in untethered.
From my perspective, there are a few simple rules for parents and kids that can make the social media experience less dangerous. Here is what I’ve learned, both as a professional and a mom. I hope these tips help you navigate the world of kids and social media so that everyone has a healthy bit of fun online and off.
1. Do Your Research: You’re here, so you’ve probably spent a good deal of time over the years googling and talking to neighbors and reading reviews for anything and everything your kid may encounter. You know the best dance school and soccer camp and family doctor. Why stop when it comes to the online world your kids are joining? It’s easy to say it all moves too fast to keep up with, because it does. But don’t we owe it to our children to learn enough to keep them on the right path?
I’ll tell you a story. For a long time, Snapchat was an app that I heard all the teenagers I worked with talking about. I avoided it like the plague for two reasons. One, it seemed it was only for “the kids” and I had no business there. But the second (and real) reason was that it terrified me. I couldn’t figure it out and I’m pretty social-app-savvy. All I succeeded in doing with Snapchat was feeling old and washed up. Then my 13-year-old asked for an account. I put her off for a while telling her I thought she was too young. But, I couldn’t avoid it forever so I dug in and figured it out. I still feel too old and washed up to use it, but I am on there now. I can poke around from time to time and know what she’s doing and knowing, even a little, about the world she is entering, goes a long way toward helping her safely navigate her way around.
2. Be the Parent: I know really strong parents who have very structured households with kids who follow rules who for some reason freak out when it comes to technology. Phones, laptops, instagram and twitter accounts are not rights, they are privileges. Something tells me you wouldn’t hesitate to take car keys away if the kid broke a rule, so why not take the phone? It’s a weird phenomena, but I see it all the time and I’m guilty of it too. Sometimes it’s just easier if she has her phone, so taking it away sound awful for both of us. But it may just be necessary.
It is our job to teach kids how to be: in school, in polite society, and now online. Just because they reach middle or high school doesn’t mean the teaching stops. I get it, they aren’t as amenable to the teachable moment when they’re surly teens, but if you set the stage early, then the transition shouldn’t be as harsh. If your kids are younger than the recommended age for social media, which most of them are, then they are still young enough to live by your rules, which should include phone and social media etiquette.
3. Be a Lurker: Social Media accounts are not diaries. You are not breaking some sort of sacred trust bond by viewing your kids’ social media accounts. In fact, if they are posting things they don’t want you to see, that is exactly when you need to be on there looking. Sign up for the same accounts and expect to be allowed to follow (see above about setting rules). Then check in now and again.
Don’t interact, that’s as embarrassing as asking them to dance when you’re the chaperone at the school dance. No cute comments on their pictures of besties or 140 characters of heart emojis all over their twitter profile, no matter how much you just love, love, love them. You aren’t their freind, just their parent and teacher. So, just look, and then address any issues in conversation, away from the phone and the app, like in the good old days.
Here’s one caveat to this rule: The alarming part of the CCN special Being 13 the other night was that many kids aren’t actually posting on their social channels. Instead, they too are lurking there, watching to see what is going on with or without them. So, your kid may not be the trouble, but the people they follow could be. Ensure you have their passwords and check in on THEIR accounts now and again. That way you don’t just see what they’re doing, you see what they’re seeing. Then, if something comes up you don’t like you can bring it up with your kid and the teaching begins, which brings me to my last tip
4. Talk To Your Kids: I know the old story, teenagers don’t talk to their parents. I also know the research that says that parents’ opinions are still at the top of the list when teens are asked what influences them. I’m not saying you have to have heart to hearts with your kid every night. They’ll likely shut down immediately. But, you can set your world up so that there are more opportunities for conversation. No phones at the dinner table, even on nights when it’s just you and one kids because everyone else is running around. We have no phones in the car rule unless the trip is over two hours (even I get desperate then!). I am always amazed at the information that comes up in the car. We’ve had many a chat about appropriate online behavior driving from this practice or that rehearsal.
Social media has been blamed for the weakening sense of empathy and social graces in this generation of kids. I challenge that assumption. Lessons on empathy and social graces happen in conversations about how to be. Today, conversations happen when phones are off.
Everyone knows that peers become a central focus of teens’ lives, and parents feel less and less useful. The truth is that kids are all still hoping to get approval from us even if they’ll never admit it. Perhaps more importantly, no matter how old they get, our kids still need to know we care. You know how they know we care? When we take time to know about them, have conversations with them, and teach them how to be.
Cristie is a former teacher turned crisis counselor who also worked as a high school youth minister, so to say she’s spent time around kids of all kinds is an understatement. At home she’s just trying to get her own three to stay safe, healthy and happy until they fly the nest, without totally losing her mind in the process. Ya know, no big deal. You can catch more of Cristie’s lessons learned from doing it all wrong over at Reinvention Girl