The NY Times published an article that dives into the world of children and screen addiction. The article quotes statistics from a Kaiser Family Foundation study which states, “The average 8- to 10-year-old spends nearly eight hours a day with a variety of different media, and older children and teenagers spend more than 11 hours per day.”
With screens occupying so much of our children’s (and our) lives, how do we help our children develop a healthy relationship with their devices and the online world? It’s never too early to start conversations about online behavior and model good choices for your kids. One dad gives us 5 tips for parenting in a social media culture below.
Parenting in a social media culture. That sentence alone can cause fear to run up and down the spine of many parents. All day long they hear horror stories about kids and social media. From Facebook (yes, kids still use Facebook) to Instagram, Twitter to Snapchat, Kik to After School, the opportunities for kids to run into trouble online are seemingly endless. The truth? There are risks, but there is also a lot of good.
Take a deep breath and let’s look at 5 ways you can be an effective parent in a social media culture.
1. Be a social media user.
One of the biggest disadvantages of being a parent in this social media age is you don’t have time to spend on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Kik, Yik Yak, Tumblr and more. While you don’t need to be an active user on every platform, you should take the time to tinker with many of them. Read websites like Mashable that keep up to date on every social media site you can imagine. Equip yourself to speak their language. When you start talking about MyTwitBook, your kids immediately check out.
Another great resource? Your kids. Ask them what platforms they are using and have them show you how they work. Use some common sense to identify potential problem areas as well as features that could be useful. (“Disappearing” messages on apps like Snapchat don’t really disappear and “anonymous” apps like Yik Yak and After School aren’t really anonymous, etc). Privacy, location-based services, inappropriate texting, and cyberbullying are conversations that are a must as your children grow up. While it’s too much to cover here, a quick Google search will give you the information you need.
You don’t need to be a social media expert – whatever that might be – but take the time to understand the platforms your kids are on. Who knows, you might just find your new favorite app.
2. Friend/follow your kids on every platform.
Follow your kids and know their username and password on every platform they use. Set guidelines for when they can and can’t use the phone.
Kids will post inappropriate things and, like we skinned our knees when falling off our bike, they will seemingly dust the dirt off and try again. The problem with that analogy is a small scar on our knee only hurts us and will eventually go away. Mistakes on the internet can potentially hurt others and they last forever. Help your kids understand that social media is not a private thing.
3. Don’t be a dominator.
“Don’t post this, don’t embarrass yourself or our family, don’t, don’t, don’t…” You’ve probably had that conversation with your kid. You’ve also realized it doesn’t work. What you are doing is being a dominator. You’re bringing an immense amount of challenge without bringing an equal amount of support. Your kids end up afraid of you and afraid of the internet. They won’t come to you for questions and they’ll try to hide things from you, knowing that you are just going to blow up.
While you should have high expectations for their behavior online, you get that by bringing challenge and support. “Hey, Jeff. You know Mom and I are for you, right? Every picture is a representation of you, our family, your team, your youth group and school. You’re there to have fun with your friends but your audience is much bigger. We expect you to act a certain way online. If not, there will be consequences. Mom and I are here for you. If you have questions, if you see something that maybe shouldn’t be there, come to us. We want social media to be a great thing for you.”
Imagine how different that conversation feels. You lay out the ground rules and how you will help them win. It becomes a family effort where they feel empowered and they trust you.
4. Be the standard.
In my talks with youth groups I always get a parent that comes up and says something along the lines of, “Thank you so much for this. I just couldn’t believe my son said this about his teacher on Facebook.” I immediately open up Facebook and find the parent’s account – while they are standing there. Without fail, one of their last 10 posts is a complaint about their spouse, their job, their kid, the Starbucks barista who used 2% instead of soy milk. And they wonder where their son learned this type of behavior.
Your kids follow you online. They are learning what’s acceptable and what isn’t from what you post. When you complain about your day, they think the internet is a place to vent. When you gossip about someone, they think it’s ok to talk about kids at school online. Hold yourself to even higher standards online than you hold your kid to.
5. Examples, examples, examples.
There are countless examples of teens using the internet for good and bad. Show them to your kids. Show them a student who got suspended for a Facebook threat. Show them a teen who used social media to get a scholarship or raise awareness for an issue. They need to see the good and bad, and understand the impact of their online behavior. You can tell them what good and bad behavior is, or you can show them.
That’s not so bad, right? The key, I believe, is to be intentional rather than accidental. Intentional parents understand that social media is here and will be for the foreseeable future. They take the time on the front end to set their kids up for success and they have conversations on a regular basis. Accidental parents throw their hands up and turn a blind eye to reality. When things go wrong, they wonder why. When things go right, they wonder why.
You should play a significant role in the experience your children will have on social media. It’s important to them and it needs to be important to you. Lead them intentionally.
The founder of Fieldhouse Media, Kevin DeShazo has spoken to more than 60,000 college athletes and coaches about social media use. He is the author of iAthlete: Impacting Student-Athletes of a Digital Generation, and also presents to churches and youth groups around the country on the topic.
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