If you, like me, live far away from a lot of family and friends, social media can be a great tool for connecting. I love that I can watch my best friend’s son at hockey practice on Instagram, and find out on Facebook that my old high school pal got re-married. It was good to know that my college friend’s mom had passed away so I could send her a message even if I couldn’t wrap my own physical arms around her. It’s been a lifeline to an entire community of people I care about but rarely see.
But, as a parent, I’ve had some serious reservations. Because, let’s face it, social media has brought a whole new facet to the parenting game. People born in the seventies or eighties, let’s all make a circle and hold hands and remember how we used to play with our friends in the street (I didn’t really do that, but I’ll hold hands anyway) and had 75% less parental supervision and had the best feathered bangs on the block. And we still survived and became the TOTALLY un-traumatized, fantastically well adjusted adults you see before you holding hands and crying a bit.
After we let go of our hands and laugh self-consciously, let’s remember what year it is and understand that we are raising our kids in a whole new world with a whole new set of rules that are actually being made up as we go.
Let me ask you this: has your child been cyber-bullied? Has she been DM’d by strangers on the Musical.ly app which they were just using to make cute little videos of themselves lip-synching to Cardi B? Has he had to read his grandparent’s friend’s opinions on immigration? These are just a few of the many, many ways your child can be victimized on social media without leaving the comfort of their very own bedrooms.
On top of it all, now we are being warned that, during your child’s favorite YouTube video about opening small plastic eggs with prizes in them that you will buy and then step on with your bare feet, some horribly thought up creature named Momo could jump in and try to get their personal information and also convince them to hurt themselves.
Then, just when you have hidden the tablets and cell phones in your underwear/old receipts drawer, The Internet announces that it’s just a hoax and has actually affected very few people.
In other words: we not only have to fear for our children’s online safety, we will NEVER KNOW WHEN THE PROBLEM IS REAL. The possibilities are literally endless (or at least in the numbers much higher than we can count).
So I think what’s wanted here, in this new digital age, is a bit of common sense and a whole lot of calm, neither of which is my forte as a mother, but I’ll give it a whirl. Here’s what we do as a family. Please keep in mind that, even though we do take internet safety seriously, we have had all of the issues I listed a few paragraphs ago, except for the Momo one.
- We talk a lot about never giving personal information to anyone online, and to keep your contacts limited to people we know IRL (in real life. Oh, another tip, learn all the acronyms of communication) unless we talk about it first.
- Teens are REALLLLLY big on having privacy and that’s cool. However, it cannot be emphasized enough that we, as parents, are responsible for their safety and we expect to monitor them. We allow them to have their own devices but all have a parent control program downloaded as a prerequisite. Sorry, not at all sorry. I like the Qustodio app. I always tell them that I will not read the reports unless it is an alert of suspicious activity.
- I try to learn along with them, instead of making grumpy “well in my day” comments which just widen the gap. If we learn the great ways that we can use today’s technology, we’ll be able to model good social media use to our kids.