Some questions about social media are an absolute breeze to answer: Why is my kid so obsessed with YikYak? What does PIR stand for? Then there are the queries that are a lot more complex: How much should I let my child use her phone? Should I monitor my child’s social life online?
I completely understand why parents want easy answers, like “Don’t let them sleep with their phones” or “Monitor their texts.” But it’s really hard for our children to take us seriously when we come up with strategies like that, and there’s a really good reason why: We’re hypocrites who often base our rules on anxiety instead of facts. Maybe you disagree with me, but before you do, consider the following four points.
- We adults are as just as connected to our digital devices as our kids. Even as we’re nagging them to get off their screens, we don’t admit that we constantly check our phones when we’re bored or jump every time someone reaches out to us. And just like our kids, we convince ourselves that we always have a good reason for checking our email, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
- Many adults post about the same things our kids do. Sure, lots of parents describe their children’s online social lives as meaningless and a waste of time. They could be doing something more productive, like going outside and getting some fresh air. Right? Well, then tell me this: Why is what our children post about the party they went to last weekend more superficial than what we posted about the party we went to last weekend? And why do we spend so much time online when we should be getting some exercise or some sleep?
- Some of us stalk other children online. Some folks think that being a responsible parent today means running surveillance as much and as often as possible about anything to do with their children. One of the best ways to do this is to get on the popular social networking platforms kids are using, such as Snapchat and Instagram, and ask kids to link or connect with you. The theory being that if they accept your invitation, you can see what these children are doing. I guess. But in my experience young people are highly incentivized to hide their personal lives from adults they know. So even if they do accept your invitation, if they’re doing something they don’t want adults to see, they’ll figure out a way to hide it. And lots of kids who get these “invitations” see them for what they are—a way for parents to spy on them. Not only do they blow off the parent but they know that parent is trying to infiltrate their lives so they know not to trust that person. Not a great way to build rapport.
- Everyone our children meets online isn’t a dangerous predator. Can we give our kids a bit of credit? Our children are “meeting” people they don’t know online all the time—especially if they play games online. If they have a headset when they play games, they are definitely talking to other people. Some of those people are annoying; some of them say racist, sexist, homophobic or just rude things a lot. But they aren’t physically threatening to your child.
Here are the stats: The vast majority of young people who meet people online and then meet them in real life fit a very specific pattern. I’ll say it to you this way: In my many years of working with young people, every, and I mean every, young person I’ve known who met a stranger in real life they initially met online was a 13- to 16-year-old neglected and/or abused girl who desperately needed attention and love because she wasn’t getting it from the people she was supposed to. The reality is that a young person who is vulnerable to online predators almost always has something very wrong in their real life that makes them turn to strangers.
Bottom line: As a parenting “expert,” I can give you lots of rules for your children about their online lives—whatever device they’re using. But none of these rules will work unless you have a relationship with your child built on mutual respect and their seeing that you live your life according to the same values you’re holding them to.
Originally posted on Family Circle Momster