I have a love/hate relationship with social media (don’t we all?).
I love the idea of being able to see what my friends and family are doing, especially the ones I don’t see regularly. I love finding a group on Facebook where people can support each other- as parents, homeschoolers, bloggers, students, knitters…basically anything. I love that you can create photo albums and find events near you.
I hate what social media has done to our kids. I hate that any time of day, anywhere, our kids can be affected by a comment someone made. That they can be bullied in their own homes. Or asked to send inappropriate pictures of themselves. I hate that they can feel left out because of a picture or post. I hate that they are addicted to their screens. I hate selfies and filters. It doesn’t take more than a google search to find the ill effects of a social media world on our children. Our kids do not have the emotional strength to cope.
What can we do about it?
I am not going to tell you that I have the answers to all of the problems that social media brings us. I don’t think anyone does yet. I am figuring it out as I go, just like all of you. And there are no easy answers.
I would love to parent the kind of kids I read about who don’t care about Snapchat and Instagram. You know, the articles where kids have voluntarily given up all social media and instead spend their time reading or volunteering or starting a small business. I admire parents who have avoided buying their kids smart phones. It’s too late for me.
My kids begged to have Snapchat as soon as they heard about it. They have Instagram and TikTok. They tweet. They watch YouTube incessantly. And I allow it (even though it makes me crazy).
Of course, I don’t want them to have all of these distractions in their lives. I want them to be more interested in their Bibles and school work than their phones. To care less about what is happening on the internet and more about what is going on in their own family. But I also want them to learn how to use these things responsibly, because I don’t think they are going anywhere.
And I know that if I forbid social media, they will just create accounts that I don’t know about.
I think that we need to focus on influencing our kids’ interaction with social media, rather than force them to get rid of it altogether. It seems like every day there is a new way for kids to be harmed by what they see. We can’t anticipate what is coming next because it’s all so new. At least once a week I read about some threat to our kids- some challenge (remember the kids eating Tide Pods?) or a post or video containing horrible images and messages. We can’t stay ahead of it! We don’t know what will be next, and by the time we do know about it, our kids have known about it for weeks.
Let’s teach them how to be smart social media users.
Let’s do it together as parents, and with the help of our children, because none of us really know what to do yet. I am starting by accepting social media as part of their lives, and trying to teach them about using these apps responsibly. It’s a new type of social media challenge, I guess.
Here are the 5 ways I am trying to influence my kids’ social media habits:
- Talk to them about relationships. Talk about how social media relationships are not always healthy and honest. Encourage them to actually call their friends and invite them over to hang out in person. Explain how easy it is for a person to manipulate them with social media, give them examples of what they might see and how to respond, who to block and what to report.
- Be a good role model. Don’t obsess over your own Facebook likes or look for attention on social media. Don’t check your phone repeatedly. Don’t engage in arguments or drama online. The more you do, the more they do.
- Listen to them. Kids are telling you things even when they aren’t saying much. A comment about what someone said online might mean that they are looking for advice about their own situation. Be aware of these moments and make them teachable.
- Check, but not obsessively, their social media. They are going to hide things from you. They know how. And if they don’t know how, they will search Google to find out how. There are times when you just have to confiscate the phone and check it all out. But doing this habitually creates sneakiness. Ask to see their accounts, ask what they are looking at and who they are talking to. When you ask, don’t be judgy. (This is my kids’ biggest complaint. They think I am judging their friends, comments, pictures, you name it.) Be matter of fact and try not to freak out about what you find. Talk about the long-term impact of their social media accounts.
- Set limits. Time limits, have them plug the phone in in a public location at night, don’t allow phones in bedrooms. Talk about when it’s inappropriate to use their phone. Password protect their ability to download apps. Put filters on your internet and their devices. You will have fights about the limits you set, but it’s so important that we don’t just let them use the internet unsupervised.
In order to figure out this social media puzzle, we need to keep the conversation ongoing. I don’t know that we are ever going to be comfortable with our kids use of social media. We need to help each other and keep each other informed, and we need to help our kids be part of this conversation.