Parenting 101 in 2014: Who’s in Control? You? Or Social Media?

I ran across a post recently that was an ‘a ha’ moment for me. The premise was that children are a lot like dogs until around about age 13 and then they turn into cats. I couldn’t believe what I was reading – yes!! Yes!! As a parent of 2 humans, 2 Golden Retrievers and 1 cat- I thought it was spot on! I shared it with my 15 year old daughter (who is a ‘cat’ according to the post). She (being a cat) didn’t see the humor and looked at me as if I had 3 heads before rolling her eyes and turning back to her phone- probably tweeting that her mother had lost her mind. I tend to see her when she needs food or money or a ride. And, when I pop into her bedroom unannounced to hang out and see how her day went, she may or may not hiss at the invasion of her time and privacy. More about ‘cats’ in the next post. Hang with me here- I’m getting to my point….

For this post, however, let’s turn our attention to our children who aren’t yet 13- the ones who can sometimes be more analogous to dogs. In my house, at least, that’s true. My younger daughter is always happy to see me, will usually do most anything I ask her to do, and is very trainable and eager to please. Much like my Golden Retrievers- except that she doesn’t require milk bones, rawhides or tennis balls for motivation. Just hugs, praise, an occasional incentive and involved parents.

What does any of this have to do with electronic parenting, you ask? Again, focusing on the younger kiddos for this post- they are TRAINABLE!!!!! Know why this is so important? Did I mention that approximately 25% of Facebook’s 1.1 billion users are under the age of 13??? Also, according to a very interesting info graphic by Lauren Dugan from February 2014 (http://www.mediabistro.com/alltwitter/kids-social-media_b54839), 21% of kids under age 13 use a social networking site.

Why? In the words of my 13 year old stepson, “all of us older kids, like me (as I stifle a giggle- 13 is older? Really?), are already using social media and the little kids see their older siblings and friends’ siblings and their own parents on it. So, they think it’s cool and want to do it too- duh.” But….that’s sort of like handing your 8-year old a key to your car, squeezing your eyes shut, saying a few prayers, ignoring the danger and expecting him or her to arrive at said destination safely. As in no injuries, scratches, dents, missing mirrors and car right side up.  Or, perhaps more realistically, it’s like regularly popping in a rated R movie for your child’s entertainment while you go mow the yard, hop in the shower or engage in other projects.

Our little guys cannot be left to their own devices to discover and use social media. So…what can we do as parents to pull in the reigns and establish authority over what they do online? First, if you haven’t already- understand that you WILL get the full court press about why they NEED an Instagram account or Twitter or Facebook or SnapChat or something else. Usually this will have something to do with the fact that you are the only parent in the entire school (or world) who has not let their child set up an account. You are so mean, and you don’t understand. There may be desperate pleas, puppy dog eyes (pun intended) and potentially tears and prolonged pouting. In extreme cases, you may experience stomping or even door slamming. Be not afraid.

Address it. As a matter of fact, beat them to it. Bring it up as soon as they have online access. Legally, you must be 13 to engage on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and SnapChat because of the need to comply with COPPA (Children’s’ Online Privacy and Protection Act) which requires that a site obtain verifiable parental consent for users who are under age 13. These sites and the content on them are not designed for kids under the age of 13 to be using, and this is stated plainly in their terms. Here are a couple of tips to keep in mind as you introduce your younger kids to social media:

  1. Set rules and boundaries. Make it clear that electronic devices are off during times you designate. I know many parents who require that their kids turn over their phones, tablets, etc. to them at a certain time in the evening and get them back the next day. I strongly encourage this. Unless you want to check on your 10-year old before you go to bed at 11 pm, only to find her huddled under the covers FaceTiming, texting, SnapChatting or posting pictures to Instagram.
  2. There are some fabulous new tools coming out in the market that I am reviewing and will summarize in an upcoming post. These are apps that parents can download onto their phones and also their children’s phones to monitor social media use.
  3. Simple conversations. Don’t under-estimate the value and effectiveness of frequent and genuine one- on- one conversations. Some key points to get across in any social media conversation with your kids include:
    1. Be positive online- never ever EVER post anything mean, degrading or hateful. If you’re in a bad mood- stay offline.
    2. Build others up. Look for opportunities to encourage and to put a smile on a friend’s face.
    3. Be choosey- social media is NOT a popularity contest. You don’t need to follow everyone you’ve ever heard of, nor should you EVER under any circumstance allow someone you do not know personally to follow you.
    4. You social media account is not your diary. Talk through examples, and help your kiddos understand what is and is not appropriate to post, knowing that every post can and will become public.
    5. Stranger danger. The online world today is the a lot like the dangerous dark alley we wouldn’t dare walk down alone when we were kids.  See my previous post entitled, “Stranger Danger.”

As parents, let’s take the power back from the online playground before our kids set foot on it. We have an opportunity to control what our kids are exposed to and to teach them proper Netiquette early.

I leave you with one final thought. If every parent were to set boundaries for and proactively teach acceptable online behavior as soon as our little ones are old enough to know what social media is, would we still have 52% of young people online experiencing cyber bullying 5 years or 10 years from now? We can turn around the cycle of cyber bullying, but it’s up to us as electronic parents to make it happen. We can do this.

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