I am the proud (and exhausted!) mother of three small children, who were all born into a time where the internet and social media rule the world. They are true digital natives; they have each been able to operate an iPad, work Netflix, and ask Google Home questions since they were toddlers. My older two kids, who are school aged, use technology every day in class, in the form of literacy and math apps on Chromebooks, Smart Boards, and they even have coding built into their curriculum. My youngest loves to ask Google to tell him knock-knock jokes and make the smart plugs turn the lights on and off (which is, of course, hilarious and infuriating at the same time).
I, on the other hand, am an 80’s baby. I grew up alongside the internet, but I’m old enough to remember the world before it. I got my first computer at the age of 10, and thus lived through the years of Windows 95, floppy disks and dial-up internet. Later on, I had a MySpace account and a Geocities webpage, used the Ask Jeeves search engine, and I even had a first generation iPod and a flip phone in my late teens. That said, I also used actual paper maps on road trips, went to the library to do research for school, and called people on the phone if I wanted to talk. I feel like my generation, the so-called “old millenials’, had the best of both worlds.
I also feel that my generation, as parents now, are able to navigate this new digital world the most effectively of all the generations. This is arguable, of course, but it makes sense. We are internet-savvy, and are at home with social media and technology in general, but are still separated enough from it to be wary of its’ downsides.
Even so, I spend a lot of time contemplating how to navigate social media with my children as they get older. It’s a whole new world out there! There are so many stories in the news of children and young teens being drawn into terrible situations because of social media, including but not limited to cyberbullying, body image and self esteem issues, and accessing inappropriate content. Even atrocities such as child luring and trafficking, unfortunately, are relatively commonplace occurrences. Completely banning technology and social media in particular isn’t a viable solution, as it’s so ingrained in society. Withholding it would be to limit them socially and academically (which is another topic for another day!).
So, what to do? Not an easy question to answer. However, I’ve started to have a series of open dialogues with my children, to help them prepare to navigate social media safely and healthfully as they grow up. A 2106 report released by Common Sense Media, as reported by CNN, states that the average age that a child creates their first social media account is 12.6 years old, so it’s clearly never to early to start the conversation. I’m pleased to share those starter topics with you.
- Not everything you see on social media is honest and transparent. Most people show their “best face” to the world on social media. They don’t show their acne, their insecurities, their messy houses, or their negative emotions. Teach them about the realities of airbrushing, filters, and photoshop. Reinforce that there is nothing wrong with being imperfect. Follow social media accounts with “real” people.
- Don’t share everything. You don’t know who’s following your profiles, and not everyone has good intentions. Don’t share your last name or what school you go to online. Learn about privacy controls on different platforms. Never, ever share photos of your body unclothed, and if someone sends you a picture or makes a request of you that makes you uncomfortable, tell a trusted adult.
- Nothing is truly private. Anything can be screenshotted or copied and pasted, and once it’s online, it lives there forever. If you wouldn’t want your family or friends to read it, don’t put it online.
- Be kind. To those you know and those you don’t. If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, don’t say it online. If someone else is being unkind online, call them out on it or tell a grown-up. Be a friend!
- Balance, balance, balance. Social media is fun, but so is going for a bike ride with your friends. Taking selfies with filters for Instagram Stories makes you feel good about yourself, but so does baking cookies for your neighbours. Snapchat streaks are a good way to pass the time, and so is reading a new book. Channel your inner 80’s baby! Live in both worlds.
How are you preparing your children for their entry into social media?
Have kids? Here’s 6 conversations to have with them about social media! http://bit.ly/38HsVRf
Prepare your little ones for the world of social media! http://bit.ly/38HsVRf #kidsonsocialmedia #toolsforparents