Social media, smart phones and kids

I recently listened to a great podcast that talked about some strategies on managing social media and smart phone use with children and teenagers. The podcast was ‘Before you hit send’ by ‘The Well’.  Here is a link to the podcast.

The podcast discussed how to manage social media feeds, questions you should ask before you hop online, role models to follow and how to ensure privacy settings are at the level they should be.

Not only was there some great advice, but the timing was impeccable. I have a ten and a half year old and I know we are soon to head into the smart phone and social media space for her.  I want to go into this time armed with knowledge, boundaries and foundations so we manage it as best we can.

Social media and smart phone usage have been described as ‘white ants’.  It infiltrates all parts of your life and eats away at it.  Just the mere presence of a phone on a table or desk is enough to take your attention away for the conversation or the interaction you are involved in at that point of time.  Even if your phone is face down on the table.

We’ve all been in a conversation where someone has glanced at, responded to a message or taken a call when you have been talking to them.  Or, perhaps you’ve done that to someone you’ve been in conversation with.  The message that sends, albeit unconsciously, is ‘the person on the other end of this phone is more important than you’.

Unfortunately, though, it’s become a way of life and as a result we are living in a time where we are more connected than ever before but less connected than we have ever been. And, for our children, this is the only world they know.

Children and teenagers of any generation are exposed to the same fears:

  • Rejection:
    • what if they don’t like me?
    • what if I’m not good enough?
    • why wasn’t I included/invited?
  • Comparison:
    • why do they have that, and I don’t?
    • Why can they do that, and I can’t?
    • how come I don’t I look like that?
    • etc.

However, now this comparison and rejection can be in their face 24/7.  And, because of their limited capacity for self-regulation and susceptibility to peer pressure, children and adolescents are at some risk as they navigate social media.  One of those risks is depression with social media scientifically linked with causing depression in some young girls.

But what has all this got to do with goal setting? Like anything else in life, in order to manage social media well you need to know what your outcome (goal) is and what behaviours and habits will lead you towards that outcome.

Outcome and Behaviours – What do you stand for?

Before going online, ask your child what they stand for. What values and behaviours do they want to display with their actions online?

It is very likely that they will be tagged in things that don’t like, be confronted with comments about others they don’t like or even asked to do things they aren’t comfortable with.  They need to know how to navigate these situations.

You need to ask them what they will you do if…

… confronted with racism

…tagged in a post or a comment they find offensive

…asked to do or say something they aren’t comfortable with

Ask them, what message does their action send to others and is this how they want to be perceived.

Behaviours – model behaviours you want to see in your child

The podcast mentioned the following statistics:

59% of children have witnessed their parents use their mobile while driving

46% of children have witnessed their parents use their mobile during dinner

What message does this send to your child? If you want to regulate your child’s mobile usage, you need to model in your usage of your phone, when it is and isn’t appropriate to use your phone.  After all, monkey see, monkey do.

Consistency – how are you going to monitor social media and phone usage?

Someone I am very close to once said to me ‘I trust my kids. I’ve told them not to go onto inappropriate sites, give out their details, etc. I don’t need to monitor their usage, that’s invading their privacy’.

No its not! Children don’t have the capacity to self-regulate or always think through the consequences of their choices.  You need to help your child do this by setting boundaries with them (i.e. Wi-Fi off at 9pm or no devices in bedrooms), spot check their accounts with them present and discuss impacts of their activity and keep them off social media until they reach the age limit set by the app.

You wouldn’t take your 10, 12 or even 15-year-old off and drop them into the seediest part of town in the middle of the night because you know what the consequences might be if you did.  Don’t leave them to navigate the online world without your guidance and boundaries as well.

Monitor their usage consistently.  One conversation or setting boundaries for one night is not enough. And talk to them about the choices they’ve made or what other people have done online.

So, lay the foundations:

What outcome do you and your child want from their smart phone and social media usage? What do they want to stand for (their values)?

How can you ensure social media is a positive experience for your child?

What behaviours are you going to display with your own social media usage?

What boundaries are you going to set with your child?

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