I’ve been a blogger for more than four years now, and I’ve been an avid computer and internet user for a lot longer than that. I consider myself pretty tech-savvy, very familiar with multiple social media networks, and a quick learner when new technology is introduced.
Being a mom to an almost-teenager, though? I’m clueless. I’m flying by the seat of my pants here, folks, and it’s one wild ride.
Marley is an only child, and she is honestly an incredible kid. I’m not just saying that because I’m her mom, either. She’s genuine, loving, friendly, smart, and, for the most part, makes good decisions. I’m quite proud. Recently, however, we’ve had a string of incidences at home that have brought her use of social media to the forefront of our dinner conversations. I’ve learned a lot, and I’m going to share it with you, in hopes that it will help you when dealing with your own kids.
A couple weeks ago on my Facebook page, I started a discussion about our kids and social media. It was eye-opening, and I felt the need to take it further than Facebook. In light of that discussion, here are five things Marley has taught me about social media.
1. A good kid can make bad decisions.
A few months ago, I was perusing my daughter’s Instagram account and noticed a rather harsh comment that she left for one of her “friends”. It was in response to another comment, but it wasn’t the type of thing I’d want my daughter to say to someone’s face, much less on a very public forum like Instagram. Marley and I sat down and talked about the power of Instagram and other social media networks, and I explained that what she said could easily be classified as cyberbullying.
Her Instagram account was deleted completely for an unspecified amount of time, and she had to personally call this friend and apologize for her actions. When her account was given back, it came with a stack of rules that were to be strictly followed or risk further punishment.
The truth is, she messed up. She’s human, just like me. I know for a fact that I have said and done things that have hurt other people, so I won’t sit here and crucify my own daughter for making the same mistake. However, I did use it as a teaching moment, for her and for myself. I learned that, even though she is a “good kid”, she’s going to mess up. She’s going to make bad decisions from time to time, and it’s my job as a parent to make sure she fully understands why it was a bad decision, and how she should move forward.
Social media is a scary place. People hide behind their smartphones and computer screens and say whatever they want, with no regard for human decency or feelings. Bloggers know all too well how it feels to have a hateful comment left on a post. What our kids need to understand is, a lot of other kids can quickly piggyback on one nasty comment and create a firestorm of cyberbullying that could potential wreak havoc on an innocent person.
What’s out there on social media is out there forever, and words do hurt.
2. Rules are made to be broken.
Remember those rules that I gave to Marley when she earned her Instagram account back? I told her that she was only allowed to follow or be followed by people she knows personally. That was a big one.
If you’re not aware, I took a 100 day sabatical from social media this summer. I encouraged my family to do the same, but the problem is, Marley spends every other week at her dad’s house. She wasn’t monitored by me during those weeks, and I wasn’t checking in on social media. I bet you can guess what happened, right?
She broke the rules. She took advantage of my offline time, and next thing I know, she’s following almost 400 Instagram accounts. Yowza!
Now, you and I both know that my child doesn’t personally know 370 people. So how did I handle this breach of protocol? She had to delete over 300 people and she lost all phone privileges for a week.
Kids break rules. But here’s the thing: Marley and I sat down together and discussed her social media use, and how we both think she should be allowed to use it. We came to an agreement on terms and created new guidelines (not rules, but guidelines). Those guidelines have been outlined in a new social media contract that she had to sign.
The next time rules…*ahem* guidelines…are broken, she will face punishment per her contract. No excuses.
3. There is too much power at their fingertips.
You know that quote from Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Well, it’s the truth. When kids are freely given access to all the internet has to offer, they are going to try to use it, and chances are, they’ll abuse it. Why? Not because they are vicious and spiteful and looking for ways to get into trouble. Because they don’t have the responsibility to use these tools properly.
Kids have access to all the good stuff online, like educational things for school projects, but they also have access to all the bad things, like pornography, social predators, and the like. Educating our kids on the dangers of the internet goes a long way, but so does monitoring their activity.
Marley is subject to random computer and smartphone checks, which include searching all of her history. I’ve also recently found a really amazing app called Mamabear that helps me monitor her social media activity even when we’re not together. I get notifications of all of her social media activity – likes, follows, posts, comments – and can also know her location at any given moment. (And parents to teen drivers? You can set alerts for a specific speed and Mamabear will tell you when your child is speeding. Seriously? I’m so glad my mom didn’t have Mamabear when I was 16!)
Before your child is allowed on any internet site or social media site, take the time to educate them on the dangers, then set up parental controls to monitor their activity.
Oh, and one more thing on this – kids need to know that their location can be found very easily when they post anything from their phones. Marley had no idea that her location settings were on, and I could find her through her Instagram pictures right down to the exact street. It’s one thing for a mom to know where her kids are, but not a child predator. Educate. Monitor. Do it.
4. Kids want to communicate with their parents.
It’s true! Marley wants to talk to me! And your kids want to talk to you, too. But conversations happen differently now. It’s important for us as parents to get down on our kids’ level. Marley contacts me through text, email, and Instagram quite a bit. At first it annoyed me. “Just pick up the phone!” I would say. I quickly realized, however, that as long as those lines of communication stay open, it doesn’t really matter what form they take.
Just keep talking to your kids, even if it’s not in the way you would really like it to be. Don’t ever shut down a chance to talk to your kids. Ever.
And don’t be afraid to be active and visible on your child’s social media accounts, too. Leave comments on their posts, but try not to embarass. Being present lets your child know you care and her friends know that you’re watching.
5. Social media is here to stay.
It’s not going anywhere, mom and dad. Instagram and Facebook are hot today, and I’m sure in a short while, there will be other social media networks that will gain popularity with the teen crowd.
Educate yourself. Stay current on where your child is spending her time, both offline and online. Monitor their accounts, and be active on them as well. I’ve tried desperately to fight the fact that Marley communicates with her friends in many ways other than a face-to-face conversation or simple phone call, but gone are the days of using the kitchen phone and getting tangled in the long coiled cord. Things have changed, and we have to be willing to change, too, or be left wondering what happened to our kids.
What are the rules at your house regarding social media, internet usage, and smartphone usage? Share in the comments below.
For more information on smartphone and internet safety, here’s a post I wrote about a year ago that might be of interest.