Parenting is vastly different today and challenging in new ways, in great part due to social media. Our children, having grown up with technology, are digital natives, more comfortable texting than talking, playing video games than playing softball. However, despite the focus on non-personal communications, parents still must strive to raise kids with character who can sustain intimate personal relationships with family and friends. Socializing is as crucial in early childhood and adolescent development for digital natives as it was for us but now there are new, ubiquitous distractions that serve to remove our kids (and many of us) from invaluable face-to-face interactions. The social landscape has changed dramatically with many interactions taking place in short snippets, and with emoticons rather than voiced emotions.
Social nuances can be difficult to manage even in ideal situations. Now, with the constant presence of social media in our kids’ lives, we find we need to monitor more of their communications. It can be daunting, when after a seemingly minor disagreement with friends, kids can share news of the confrontation within minutes in texts, on Snapchat, Instagram posts, or whatever the social media channel of choice.
When I ask parents what they want for their kids as young adults, I most often hear that they simply want their kids to be happy, independent and able to engage in strong relationships. And, as with any parenting topic, we want to parent with hope, not fear. It’s easy to be wary of technology – but if we arm ourselves with just a little information and a lot of common sense, we can approach our parenting with confidence. Digital citizenship, determining how to be civil in this world of 24/7 technology, is the best preparation for you and your child.
Practicing Digital Citizenship, especially with regard to character, requires constant monitoring for young children. This means they must ask for permission before using a digital device, with the understanding that you will review their email, text, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, games – any social media your child is using. Explain why you’re monitoring: to make sure that your child is safe and interacting in appropriate ways with appropriate people. This way, by the time you wean from constant monitoring they will understand what is acceptable and have a self-filter in mind. While it’s important to understand technology and the role it plays in your child’s development, your primary focus should be on nurturing character and promoting independence with and without technology. Ultimately, character is who your child is when you’re NOT there. Some guidelines for parents include:
– Monitor young children’s use of social media and digital devices very closely and model appropriate language, helping them to form what they write
– Explain why monitoring is so important and talk about what you might be looking for
– Ease up on monitoring tween children – spot check what they write and read, and still require permission to use digital devices, chime in constructively and firmly when you see something that gives you pause
– Try to give your adolescent children even more independence on social media
– Keep the conversation at all ages going about what you’re seeing and what you’re concerned about
– Highlight the positives – help your child understand how social media can support their emerging social and academic life – whenever possible be proactive and reserve judgment
– Make sure your child knows who they can go to if they are bullied or scared by what they see and they feel they cannot go to you Ask questions before jumping to conclusions
– Discipline when necessary – it’s part of parenting and it’s a learning experience!
In terms of limitations, be thoughtful about screen time – rather than simply dictating time constraints, determine a set of realistic expectations. Limit access to devices for good reasons, such as to ensure a full-night’s sleep and for developing interpersonal relationships. Kids (and adults) cannot truly multitask while thinking critically. Make sure your child is not connected to social media while doing homework or serious tasks (like driving). Sure, sometimes the homework requires interaction with others or hours on the computer. But, notifications can be turned off, and buzzing can be muted.
Most importantly, while you work with your child to address screen time, multitasking, or potential video game addiction, be sure to look for areas of true concern. Here are some red flags that might be clues to bigger problems:
– Are homework or grades suffering?
– How is your kid’s social life? Is it active? Has it changed recently?
– Does your child have alternative interests and activities (other than social media)?
– Is your child sleeping regularly?
– Is your child’s diet changing?
It’s normal for kids to have a social life outside of family. It’s also normal for them not to share every detail. Concerns over stalkers and cyberbullies are very real, but the idea is not to try and protect your children from everything but to teach them to manage and cope on their own. You want your children to try to advocate for themselves and of course, come to you (or others) when they have a problem they cannot handle. Most issues that arise are normal and can be handled by your kid. Resist the temptation to fix every little thing. If you can, let your kids fend for themselves – and trust them. If you’ve worked with them to understand and navigate the digital landscape, they should be ready and able to take charge of this brave new technological world.
Amy combines academic research, educational practice, and real-world experience in her writing and workshops to help parents find perspective and develop confidence in raising their families and to help teachers better understand their own practice. She gains invaluable insights from her own personal research subjects (AKA her children and husband) whom she learns from and enjoys every day.
Amy Alamar, EdD, has worked in the field of education as a teacher, teacher educator, researcher, parent educator, and education reformer for over fifteen years. In late 2014, Amy published her first book entitled: Parenting for the Genius: Developing Confidence in Your Parenting through Reflective Practice (For the Genius Press, 2014). The book is a comprehensive guide to becoming the most thoughtful and confident parent possible, with anecdotes and details relating to the guidance and support of children in specific age ranges throughout their formative years. Amy is also a contributing author to the Disney parenting website, Babble.com.
As a frequent speaker to parent and faculty groups, Amy focuses on a wide range of parenting topics including student stress and wellbeing, raising digital natives in the information age, and parenting kids with character. She also conducts faculty development workshops that focus on engagement with learning, professional communication, and curriculum design. She was an invited guest of Michelle Obama at the White House for a conversation about kids’ health in 2016.