Would you let your child freely interact with strangers? That question is the basis for my thoughts and opinions on children using social media. It is hard to have a simplistic grasp of the explosion of social media. We can share our lives via photo, video, sentences, and a song in an instant. We are interacting in ways that we couldn’t imagine years ago. My 80-year old low-tech dad just followed me on Instagram. Times have changed. Social media has opened avenues of communication that allows the participant to access dozens, hundreds, thousands, and even millions of people. Where do our children fit in the social media picture that is increasingly becoming an integral part of our daily lives?
That brings me back to the first question. Would you let your children freely interact with strangers? The answer for my children is no. In public situations, when strangers approach my children, I make sure I redirect the interaction between me and the stranger. When I’m shopping, I don’t let my children leave my side to interact with people I don’t know. Why would I allow my children to do that on the internet?
Things to think about…
- Predators are rampant on the internet. They are all over the internet in every social media platform: FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
- Personal profiles can be easily be created to misrepresent the user. A predator wouldn’t typically identify himself as one on his profile. People are not who they say they are. I just checked into my Instagram account and someone started following me. The profile pic was stock photo of a model. Who knows who the real person is behind the account? I don’t. Neither does your child.
- Peer pressure to post things for shock value. We are a “like-hungry” society. We crave more likes and reposts on the photos, videos, and words we post on social media. People pay money to buy followers on social media platforms. “Likes,” “Favorites,” “Repins,” and “Reposts,” are the fuel that make social media go. That pressure is on our children to fit in their digital world as well as their physical world. We all know that the easy way to get attention to internet activity is to promote sex and vulgarity. The pressure is on our children to promote the same things!
So when can my kid join in?
I’m going back to my theme. The permissions I allow my children to be in the physical world is similar to the interaction I would allow my children to have on the internet. If I allow my son to work at the local movie theater, where the bulk of his interaction is with people he doesn’t know, then yes, I would allow that in his digital world as well. With boundaries? Yes, and I will set them. Freedom without responsibilities and accountability is not freedom. The process is all about trust, and trust is earned, not given.
What is your involvement?
Parenting is active. Anytime, you don’t interact with your children or you do not actively supervise your children’s activities, it is very likely that your children will go beyond the boundaries. Street signs remind me about the rules while I drive to keep me and others around me safe. Those road signs are not consistent on the internet. The parent must be guiding his/her children, and that includes setting limits on time, content, and interaction. I can and will tell my child, who can and cannot be his internet friends.
The key rule in my house is that all devices stay in the living room. All interaction on all devices happens here. My pre-teens in the house and friends that wanted to video chat today. It had to happen in the living room. I did not have to be in the chat with them, but at least I was within view and earshot of their conversation.
Our children need boundaries the same way a river needs banks. When there are banks, the river is a source of life. When the banks are gone the river becomes a flood. I believe in saying no with purpose. I believe that setting boundaries for your children will help them create boundaries for their own lives.
What are the boundaries in your house for your children? Is it clear? Are you actively involved? Do you have any ideas and tips to share? Comment below.