When we think about kids and social media, our minds sometimes go to Facebook almost instantly. I’ve talked to a lot of parents in recent years who consider Facebook to be the face of social media, so their strategy for regulating it for their kids usually hinges on whether or not the child has a Facebook profile.
As you may have guessed, Facebook is not the only game in town, especially for kids. My niece is 9 years old, and though she doesn’t have a profile on Facebook, she does have one on Instagram and Snapchat (both photo-sharing platforms). And those are just the ones I know about.
Kids know more about social media than you.
The reality is that kids don’t just have access to social media. They’re masters of it. Being born into it, they know how to use it without being conspicuous, and the power of anonymity means that they can log on without you ever knowing.
I’m not saying that social media and new technology is inherently bad. Kids are using the evolution of technology in creative and inspiring ways. Just a week ago, I saw my young niece making a bracelet with a low-tech block I had never seen before (apparently these are getting popular). What she was doing looked complicated, so I asked her who taught her to do this, and her reply made my eyes widen.
“Videos on YouTube.”
Really, that is what she said. I couldn’t even teach myself to put on a tie when I was her age. Indeed, the online world and the real world is far more intertwined for children then it probably ever will be for older generations, and there are some dangers with that…unless you’re willing to adapt.
What should I do?
First, you need to accept that you can’t fully control what your children choose to do with social media. You may get lucky, but you can never truly know everything that they’re doing and make sure it is all in their best interest.
Next, educate yourself on what it is that they’re using. Be aware of what’s new and how your kids can potentially use the new app that is coming out. Once you’ve become educated, then you can educate them. Make them aware of the problems and issues they need to be aware of whenever they put themselves out there for the world to see.
Of course, there are the common dangers you might already know about, such as cyber-bullying and stalking. Every child should be aware of these. But another lesson we need to make sure we’re imparting to our kids is that there needs to be an appreciation for life outside the screen.
It may seem trivial sometimes, but we undoubtedly have a problem with being glued to our phones. And it’s getting worse. It’s happening because younger adults like myself were brought up in the dawn of the cell phone age, so our values were essentially shaped by how important our phone is. The same is happening to the next generation, only further boosted by the dawn of apps and social media profiles.
We’re still not entirely certain how the advent of social media will shape us as the years go by, especially for the children who are born with it. We’re already seeing studies about how social media is distorting positive values within teens and people who are my age.
But when it comes down to it, it’s okay to look ahead with optimism that new technologies will better our lives and create positive outcomes for ourselves and our children. The truth is that we’re not facing anything actually “new” compared to those who came before us, since our challenges are just different.
So, as you decide on how to approach the very real issue of how your kids are using and applying social media, keep both the positives and negatives in mind. Encourage them to use social media in a healthy way, while also teaching them that it can, in fact, be easy to turn your phone off once in a while.