When my children were very young, the only technology parent rule I knew was: “Don’t put a computer in your children’s bedrooms.”
These children are teenagers now and still don’t have computers in their bedrooms. Good technology parenting? Not really. Why should they even want a computer in their bedroom when it is so easy to carry one around with them in their pockets?
The rules change so fast I can’t keep up. But I need to try–because my girls can keep up, navigating the social media world like little professionals. They so so wanted iTouches for Christmas. Without even blinking, my husband and I scouted out good deals and made our girls very happy on Christmas morning. But since then, I’ve wondered–what did we do here? My ten year old has become this Instagram wizard. She and her cousin Snapchat each other twenty times a day. When I listen to her talk about it, it is like I am visiting another country. Snap what? How does Instagram work again? She learns a lot about this from her thirteen year old sister who texts far more than she ever actually talks to someone on the telephone. Holy crow. This makes me sound like a horrible mother.
Or does it? What mother of teens and tweens isn’t dealing with this? This is bold to say–but I if you have teenagers and don’t think you need to deal with social media issues it is probably because you don’t know enough about what your teen is up to. A friend of my daughter’s, for example, is completely banned from Facebook, internet, chatting–you name it–and yet this girl has something upwards of 500 Facebook followers and is one of the most adept social media users I know. You can open an Instagram account in seconds. There are such things as “secret” Pinterest boards. You don’t need your own computer to update your Facebook status. Just go to the library. Or borrow your buddy’s iPhone for a sec. Social media is literally within arm’s reach all the time. And it isn’t going anywhere.
So, what does good parenting look like in a world drenched in social media? Instead of trying to control it, I think we are better to embrace it as a part of our lives and teach our children to use it responsibly. It might help to consider what responsible social media use means to you. Here are three guidelines I like:
- First, I want them to be safe.
- Second, if they are going to use it (and yes they are) I want them to use it as a force for good.
- Third, I want to make sure that social media doesn’t impede their development in confident face to face communication.
Here are some ideas to put these objectives into action:
MONITOR OUR OWN USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA. This is still relatively uncharted territory for most of us. I am still coming to terms with the role social media should play in my life. Social media (i.e. this blog) pays for dance lessons. I manage a website for my writing camp. When a friend recently told me that she didn’t do Facebook, I honestly looked at her in confusion. Why not? For me, social media adds a welcome dimension to my life allowing me to connect with many people I care about. But it can also be addicting. I can go to Facebook out of boredom or be half listening to my child while reading about someone else’s children in a mommy-blog. This is not acceptable. One of the best ways to teach my children to use social media responsibly is to do so myself. This requires constant personal checking and regulating.
WORK IT OUT TOGETHER. Instead of imposing rules and trying to control my children’s use of social media, I think we’ll get farther by working it out together. We need to talk about it, really talk about it. We have started a conversation about our family’s own “social media guide.” I have suggested we have daily “no screen” time and a “screen free” day on Sundays. My ten year old suggested that whenever they have friends over, it should be a rule that they have to find other things to do besides look at a screen. Good one. So far, other parts of our family social media guide include:
- No “crucial conversations” via messaging. You can compliment or arrange a play date but any important conversations need to be face to face.
- Use social media to encourage others and contribute goodness to the world. (Mom, you are kind of a nerd. I know, but do it anyway.)
- No using social media to exclude others. Making a list of “bff’s” or “most beautiful girls” or “hottest guys” in school is not allowed.
- Be very very careful about pictures and words. Once they are there, they are there for the world to see and use forever. Even if you push “delete.” Even the “self-destruct” on Snapchat. Everything is forever. They need to know this.
- Mom and Dad get to join you. The best way for us to learn about Instagram, is to follow our girls on it ourselves. The best way to learn about Kik is to get the password and read what is going on. I’m not that adept at it, but lucky for me, the best teachers in the world are sitting next to me at dinner.
GET SMART. There is a wide chasm between what I know about social media and what my daughters know. If I am going to participate, let alone be a guide in these conversations, I need to get smart about social media and know what I am talking about. One incredibly helpful resource is Quib.ly a parenting technology sitedesigned to support and educate parents. The site allows you to follow questions answered by parents and experts on topics such as Snapchat, cell phones, and safety and privacy on the web. I am a new (and loyal) member.
Finally, DON’T FREAK OUT. My teen just gave me some advice on ending this post. In her words, when parents read things like this, they tend to freak out and go straight to “you’re not allowed to go on _______ anymore” or “give me your phone.” We need to remember that banning teens from social media is one of the surest way to keep them active on social media. Only, many times they’ll do it behind your back. Instead of logging on in plain sight with you there to say, “Hey! What are you posting?” they’ll do it secretly and work to navigate the online world without you. She is 13 and she knows.
And because of what I know, there is no way I’m letting her do this alone. It’s much too big of a world. Though it is at times quite complicated, this is a part of my parenting I can’t ever neglect.