Written by Maria | Maria Luves
When it comes to social media and our children the approach families take are as wide and varied as parenting itself. In fact, I suspect that our approach to social media will be a mirror of our parenting style.
I am what you might call a pendulum swing parent.
I started off my parenting journey much stricter than I am today (much to the sometimes disgust of my older children). My eldest is 22 and my youngest is 10, in those years we have reevaluated how we parent many times, and have often back flipped on decisions as a result.
But not without mindfulness. I didn’t just wake up one day and change on a whim. I probably started to change when my eldest at about 12 started to take an interest in YouTube. He started playing Club Penguin and making videos. Later on, that interest turned full on, building up to a YouTube channel today of about 57, 000 people. Not that active on YouTube these days, he has moved to the eSports scene as a shout-caster. But back then we would have all kinds of ‘voices’ in our home via Skype (and some quite big names), so how we approached social media as parents took on a different tone.
Online presence and the importance of social media to this kind of industry/career became a very real thing for us. He is obviously and adult now and well and truly in charge of his own destiny, but his journey has made us think very much about how crucial social media can be sometimes to our children and their future.
I also think as they grow, and you see that you can navigate your kids through the various minefields of parenting, you begin to relax a little. Realising that each child is different was part of that as well. To parent with a blanket approach is not the best way forward. Each child needs unique and individual input sometimes. What works for one, may not work for another.
To give you an idea of what I was like, my eldest son was 6 before had any kind of game console, he certainly didn’t have access to social media. He did have an email address as we had moved 200 km away from family and Grandparents wanted to keep in touch. He was allowed an hour a day technology time.
My youngest learnt to read at age four, because he wanted to play Minecraft with his brothers and sisters. These days I watch what my 10-year-old is doing, but I don’t really have a set limit, I pull him off the computer when I think he’s had enough. He has email, Skype, Twitter, Discord. He speaks daily to people all over the world, he plays Game of War on his iPad, and multiple games on PC where he talks with others as he plays. He doesn’t have Facebook, because he is ten. There has to be some milestones in life.
So why the change?
Fear based parenting
If I am going to be honest with you, a major part of my changing attitude was that I identified that I was often parenting from a place of fear rather than trust and that did not feel right to me.
While there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to protect our kids, there is a problem when we start to stifle them in the process, for our own sense of comfort and safety.
It is easy to say that I can trust my kid, but it’s the rest of the world I don’t trust, but that is equally a fear based response.
I didn’t want to create an atmosphere for my kids to grow up in, where fear was the driving force of my decisions. There are still good people in the world. I didn’t want them to be frightened of the world around of them. Instead, I wanted to look at what was causing those fears, and come up with practical solutions to help navigate my kids through them.
What have some of those solutions been?
Getting to know their online contacts –
I think it is important to understand who your kids are online with. When my kids started getting into Minecraft, they hung out a lot on a particular server. Soon, several of them were working as admins and mods on that server. I was concerned, because they were spending so much time online, and this server was run by an adult who often spoke to them on Skype.
So guess what? Mummy learnt to play Minecraft.
Rather than stop what they were doing because I was scared, I joined in to see what was really happening. There were somethings I saw that worried me, and some that I let slide, but at least I was there, being a presence and letting the online world know, that my kids had a parent who was watching and interested and part of that world, this helped. Soon I was a mod on that server too, and helping to make it a safer place for all involved. They sometimes played there, or on other servers, but always with the knowledge that I wasn’t too far behind. Of course they were all a little younger then.
The things that worried me, became topics of conversation around the dinner table. We were able to talk about online risk and behaviour. We spoke about how to identify negative traits and behaviours, talked about listening to instincts etc. We had open discussions about grooming, and people online perhaps not always being who they say they are. We saw first hand bullying and were able to talk about that.
But it took me getting out of my comfort zone and world, and joining theirs. And they were cool with that. I obviously wasn’t all up in their grill, but I was a presence and even met some young people who still to this day call me Mamma.
It was pretty neat.
Being a presence in their lives.
It is tempting as our children get older to back off and give them space. And of course they will demand this. As they move into teen years, they will want that freedom and privacy and this is important to respect. However there is such a thing as too much. Kids need to know that you are watching. You do have expectations and you will follow through when those expectations aren’t met.
I always made it a condition that if they were to have Facebook then they had to friend me. I am not OTT about it, but I do want them to know that I am here, and I am watching. And I want their friends and online contacts to know that too.
Have clear expectations of how you want your kids to behave on social media, and talk about how they interact. Talk about this together and come up with strategies that you all agree on.
For us a big one is keeping drama off Facebook. Not because we don’t have drama, or because we want to create a certain image, but because we want our relationships to be authentic, so if you have something to say, take the time to say it personally.
Set filters and have open door policy when they are younger. Or even better have the computer in a public space in the house.
Talk about online reputation
The world is vastly different from when I was a kid. Being online for me as a kid, was swinging on a Hills Hoist washing line.
Today the internet is the Groundhog day of mistakes and bad moments. If something bad happens online, then it can follow you forever. It can affect your jobs, your relationships and your reputation.
Talking about this and showing your kids examples and stories of how this affects people ‘in the real world’ will help develop an understanding. Doing this from as early an age as possible will help.
My own personal rule of thumb, is that if I wouldn’t say it with my mum or my kids in the room, then I shouldn’t say it on social media either. My kids know that and we have conversations about their behaviour (and mine) if it doesn’t match up with our values.
Be aware of online pictures and who they are meeting
When my eldest was in college studying media, he and some mates were employed to make a video for our local council about online grooming. There is a growing number of children that are going off to meet people they have met online. Sometimes getting there and realising these ‘teen age boys’ they’ve been chatting too and sharing pictures with are grown men.
We can parent from a place of fear in this, or we can acknowledge that we live in a changing world and help give our children the skills to face that world head on.
Talking about the types of pictures they place online, chatting through the appropriateness of the pictures they are sending to friends, or members of the opposite sex (or same-sex). We need to talk about peer pressure, self-esteem and address the root cause of why these things are a growing epidemic within their culture.
It is not good enough to say or think that they are teens, and that is what everyone does these days, because the outcomes of that behaviour can stay with them a life time, if photos get into wrong hands. Or if a child gets bullied because of photos, or worse takes their own life.
Know who they are meeting, know their friends, have an expectation that they will let you know when plans change.
Be a role model
More than ever our kids need our input. They need us not to be helicopter parents, but relevant and authentic voices in their lives. They need us to model that behaviour for them. There is nothing a teen hates more, than a hypocritical parent. Now don’t get me wrong, we are adults and that might mean different rules apply. But sometimes when we stop to listen to our kids, there can be some truth in what they are saying too.
Listen to them, don’t be afraid to confront our own behaviour and change if we need to. They aren’t with us forever, they do go off and make their own way, and we want that way to be as happy as possible. So be the kind of adult in their lives, that you want them to grow to be.
That doesn’t mean being perfect, we all stuff up and get it wrong. But it does mean being real, and being authentic. Having genuine conversations, and saying sorry when we get it wrong.
Don’t be afraid of technology
Join in. Get them to teach you, join their world. My mum joined Snapchat the other week, and my kids love it. They get to send Grandma Snapchat’s of their day, and she sends hers back. It’s just another way of keeping in contact and having a bit of fun.
In fact my daughter sent her a series of chats of her walk from her house to her university campus so my mum who lives in Australia could see where she lives. They were both made up with this exchange.
Don’t be an ostrich
More than ever our kids need us to have our heads up, engaged and paying attention. They need us to listen and take the time to have real conversations. We can’t just be an ostrich with our head in the sand about the world around us. We need to create safe places to talk, we need to try to remove our judgement and help them navigate the world around them, not by keeping them away from it, but by at age appropriate stages, equipping them with the skills and boundaries, to keep them safe in a way that conveys our trust and belief in them to do it well.