Social media has changed the way we communicate, socialize, obtain information, and shape our opinions about the world, others, and ourselves and while this is very much a profound influence on our lives, many of us haven’t figured out how to effectively parent our children in relationship to it.
1. Accept that social media is here to stay. It is understandable that many parents are fearful and therefore are not fully embracing of social media. However, coming from a place of fear doesn’t promote understanding, and the reality is that similar to things like pornography or drugs and alcohol, wanting these things to go away or trying to altogether avoid conversations about these things does not work. At some point young people will be exposed to them and there is no magic social media, sex, or drug/alcohol fairy that shows up when kids need guidance. As parents, we need to show up in that role.
2. In order to effectively manage your child’s social media use, you have to expose yourself to it, engage with it, and understand it. Have your child introduce their favorite app(s) and tell you what they like about it and teach you how to use it. Make it fun. Try to avoid criticizing social media, as this will reinforce the attitude of, “My parents just don’t get it.” This does not mean as parents we have to agree with all of what our kids are doing, or posting, or sharing – it is more about wanting them to see us as willing to listen and learn and maybe to consider that as their “old, out of touch” parents we might actually know a little bit of what we’re talking about. Judgement will only get in the way of what you really want — to have a closer relationship with you kids.
3. Find ways to connect vs. reject. One way to do this is to make it fun! Send messages through snapchat, tell them to make their bed with a goofy face filter, or try not to embarrass yourself doing a TikTok dance. One added benefit, is that when children realize they cannot so easily get away with things online, they are more transparent. Also, this can promote kids thinking twice and editing before sending a message or posting something inappropriate. If not, you will be there to help them manage it. Young people are uniquely sensitive to the judgment of parents, teachers, friends, and the digital community. It might be that social media heightens this sensitivity and drives impulsiveness or pre-occupation with popularity, acceptance, or body image, but it did not create these issues. Yes, it can make it harder and more pressure-filled for kids, but if we make it all about social media, we are missing the big picture.
4. Set up a plan – talk to your kids about what they might be exposed to ahead of time. Let them know they might see things that confuse them, upset them, or even scare them. Work to establish yourself as a person who they can turn to without fear of losing the privilege. Losing access for a time may be a necessary outcome, but do your best to not threaten it and to first understand what happened without shaming. One tip is to avoid taking phones or social media away as a punishment if the problematic behavior was not related to that social media use. Remember the long-term goal is for our kids to learn how to avoid the pitfalls of social media use for themselves. Lastly, make sure to talk to other parents, therapists, or attend meetings/webinars on the subject. Do your best to stay informed so you can meet the needs of your kids.
Sam Hardwig MA, LPC, CSAT CANDIDATE
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