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Parenting in the World of Social Media

By Dr. Kristen Abbondante, Ph.D.

How are parents supposed to keep up with a fast and changing technological world? Since social media does not come with its own set of rules and regulations, here are some tips when deciding to integrate social media into your child's life.

  • Learn the language. "Facebook, who uses Facebook anymore?" kids will say. Educate yourself on the sites, terms and language being used by your children and their peers. Hashtags, vining, tweeting, streaming, selfies – nouns and verbs used frequently in youth culture.
  • Slowly but surely. When it comes to driving, would you allow your child to drive without any experience or knowledge of the rules of the road? Without hours of supervision and teaching?  Social media should be approached in the same fashion. Children should have many restrictions in the beginning (i.e. parent supervision, frequent monitoring, limited access to sites/devices, minimal time, no access to passwords). As children prove their responsibility, they earn more freedom, access and independence.
  • Keep your child's maturity level in mind. Although age is a good indicator, you know your child best. Not all things are created equal. There are numerous apps, access levels and privacy settings. Not all settings and apps will be appropriate for your child. Read the information provided by the app store, monitor use and slowly add more access.
  • It is all about how you use it. Although it may feel differently, technology was not created to make a parent's job even harder. Help your child explore the positive aspects of technology and incorporate it into your family life (i.e. family game night, FaceTime distant relatives, watch funny videos).
  • Educate yourself about social media. Learn about passwords, privacy settings, internet access and the cloud. (What is the cloud and where does the information go? An article for another day). Discuss concerns with your electronics and access supplier. They can answer questions about the product, parental controls and software that may apply to your child's needs.
  • The earlier you intervene, the more control you will have. It is better to start younger and provide minimal access (i.e. one social media site you monitor) than to allow full access to all social media without supervision as an adolescent.
  • It is important to balance time. We do not want to grant children an all-access pass. Set a "screen time" limit. Children should be participating in other activities besides social media.
  • Not all is fair with children and social media. Children will make mistakes when using social media. The goal is to help children learn from mistakes, and the best way to learn is to practice, receive feedback and suffer the consequences. The normal reaction would be to remove access completely. However, this limits a child's ability to learn from their mistakes.
  • Be a filter. Although your child will be exposed, you have control over HOW the information will be received. Ask questions about games they enjoy, who they talk to, sites they frequent or YouTube channels they follow. Better yet, sit down with them and visit these sites together.
  • Be a good model. How often are you on your phone or tablet? Do you Facebook at dinnertime? In the middle of a conversation? Your children are watching you; you can model how to use social media appropriately.
  • Not bad, just new. The media does a good job of scaring us that the world is falling apart.  Children are participating in more activities than ever.  They are still communicating, but the mode of communication has shifted.  Instead of trying to fight against it, learn it. Join social media sites, text and, if you're feeling confident, share information on the cloud.
  • Lastly, trust your parenting. It's all about communication, supervision, consistency and consequences. Now only if you could figure out how to turn the camera to take a selfie. There is always next year.