This post is mainly meant to go over how to help your children use social media wisely, but we can all use these principles and I am sure there is more to this that just social media. Let me know your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is a bit ironic, yes? Using social media to promote an article about the potential dangers of social media? Well, let’s look past that as best we can.
What is Social Media?
I wanted to start with those who might not even be familiar with what qualifies as social media. Well, in the world we live in today, almost anything we do on the web has at least some social quality to it. You can comment on this post and voilà, you just participated in a very small scale of social media. Any sort of interaction on the internet can be considered social media in some way.
What kind of Social Media sites exist?
Literally hundreds… for our purposes today, I will now ramble off a few for you: Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Pinterest, Twitter, Quora, Tumblr, Reddit, Snapchat, and Whatsapp. The list could go on and on. Each of these offer unique strengths and each have their weaknesses for interacting socially. That, however, is a whole other blog post for most likely a different blog.
What’s the deal with Social Media?
Social media really started to take off in the mid-2000’s with programs like IM, IMVU, and AIM. These were all messaging programs that let you create a username and interact with other people (friends mostly) through their username. In middle school, you would get home and fire up your IM account to talk to your friends. I vividly remember doing that. After these programs became popular, sites like MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube established a culture of sharing that essentially defines the life of teenagers and young adults today (and even some not so young adults…you know who you are). These sites allow people to connect from across the world and share content instantaneously with those whom they have connected with. In essence, you can reach a lot more people a lot quicker by using social media sites.
Using Social Media wisely.
With this great power comes great responsibility, and that responsibility and power should not be taken lightly. Social media, while it is a great tool, can become a distraction and even an addiction. This is the case with many young people today who are enveloped in the constant sharing/always on culture created by these sites. Considering myself an aficionado in all things social media (it takes up a lot of my time professionally and personally I will admit), I want to share a few principles on using social media appropriately.
You don’t have to be a social media monk and swear off Facebook for good in order to not get addicted, but you do have to set some boundaries in order to use social media in the beset way possible. Instead of limiting your children’s time or your time on social media, set times you won’t use it. This simple trick turns it from a “limiting” viewpoint to a viewpoint which enables the individual to do something else. Go outside, ride a bike, fly a kite, all that jazz. Talk to your spouse face-to-face instead of messaging back and forth from different rooms. Scheduling time to do something outside the realm of social media can bring you back to center, and also will help you be more productive.
Talk with your kids
This is a big one in my book. Sitting down with your kids to talk about social media and using it appropriately is essential for a positive relationship between you, your kids, and their devices. Letting them know in a positive way that you care about this issue and that you understand their point of view can help establish a communication channel through which you and your children can set goals and parameters. Let them know that not being on Facebook or posting that selfie is not the end of the world. TIP: Try to avoid the “back in my day” talk. Unfortunately, it’s no longer your day and relating to your kids like it is isn’t very effective. Times have really changed, and your ability to adapt to that shows your kids you’re trying to be understanding.
Connect with your kids
You don’t have to “like” all of their posts or “share” all of their photos, but know which networks they use and connect with them there. This not only helps you stay connected in their lives, but also lets you monitor some of their activity in a way that doesn’t seem overbearing. This is also a good chance to explain to your kids why you want to keep an eye on them.
Devices should be in a public place
Things like computers, tablets, and other personal electronic devices should be kept in a public place like a living room, office, or kitchen. Charge devices in a central location because even with all the good offered by social media to help connect, it is far too easy for people to see (accidentally or purposefully) inappropriate material. Sadly, in the world of social media, things like pornoraphy and other graphic material is made too readily available. Helping to protect your kids from this destructive influence doesn’t stop at this step though. You’ll need to, in that conversation about using social media, have a talk with your kids about the dangers of pornography and what to do in case they accidentally run into it. Again, establishing a clear channel of trusted communication is essential, not just in this case, but in family life in general.
Social media is a seriously amazing tool, when used correctly. The fact that you can be in touch with family and friends all over the world can make life so much more fulfilling, but remember that it isn’t our digital connections that bring the most meaning. As with everything we do at The Family Project, family comes first. Interpersonal, physical, face-to-face relationships will always be more meaningful. Not that your Aunt Karen in Topeka, Kansas isn’t important, but connecting online will never suffice for our day to day, real-life connections.