Given these dangers and drawbacks when it comes to social media, we can’t afford to be passive in our parenting. This is an area of our kids’ lives where we need to be personally and proactively present at all times. Here’s a suggested plan of action:
Take a self-assessment. Before talking to your kids, take stock of your own social media habits. Teenagers have a nose for hypocrisy. They can tell when your walk doesn’t match your talk. The Social Technology Self-Assessment Checklist on the next page will help you get a better idea of where you stand in this regard.
Be a positive role model. Once you’ve got control over your own electronics use, show your kids what it means to keep this area of life in line. You’d be surprised how powerful your example can be. According to the Pew Research Center, “Parents are the most often cited source of advice and the biggest influence on teens’ understanding of appropriate and inappropriate digital behavior.” That’s great news!
Develop a workable safety plan. As you develop your plan, consider these suggestions:
- Be educated and clued-in. Know the built-in safety parameters and filtering features of various social media platforms.
- Make up your mind to be the parent. Get serious about your responsibility to protect your children against cyberbullies, sexual predators, and the pitfalls of social media culture.
- Understand that it’s okay for kids to be bored. Placing limits on their use of social media won’t kill them. It might have the benefit of forcing them to find other things to do.
- Impose reasonable age limits on social media use. We’d recommend that no one younger than high school age be permitted to have a Facebook or Twitter account.
Set realistic goals. When you know what needs to change, map out a strategy for achieving your goals. You may even want to draw up a Social Media Use Contract and post it in a prominent location in the house. It might include the following points:
- Limit social media use to one to two hours per day.
- All screens must go dark at least one hour before bedtime.
- Ensure accountability. Share passwords and restrict social media use to public areas of the home.
- Use content filters like Forcefield. A thirty-day free trial is available at Fotf.Forcefield.me.
Adopt a multistep approach. Don’t expect to achieve all of these objectives overnight. Realize that you can’t catch everything and that no one can be a perfect parent.
Build a strong, healthy relationship with your kids. Your teens desperately want close relationships and connection to others. Help them find this sense of belonging at home. This will happen as you foster mutual respect and take time to communicate with them.
If your child says he can study and be on the phone at the same time, review this checklist with him:
- What are you watching or listening to?
- Does it take you longer to finish your homework when you’re also on your phone?
- How are your grades right now?
Once your child has considered these questions, share what you’ve learned about multitasking. It’s really a myth—even for adults.
Do What You Can Do
Social media have become practically ubiquitous in contemporary culture. There isn’t much that you can do to change that fact. But you can provide your kids with guidelines and good examples that will prevent them from getting into trouble. With a little foresight and knowledge, and lots of communication with your kids, it’s possible to minimize the potential dangers. And if something does go awry, those critical lines of communication will help you fix it.
- Sameer Hinduja and Justin W. Patchin, J. W. (2010). Bullying, Cyberbullying, and Suicide. Archives of Suicide Research, 14(3), 206-221.