I have a love/hate relationship with social media. Facebook and Instagram are the only sites that I regularly use, but I’m sure that other platforms present similar issues. Let me start with the love part. I grew up moving often, all over the world, and so I appreciate that I can keep up with people I’ve known for decades, but don’t see much (or ever). My family appreciates that it’s an easy way to share pictures of each other’s children. Reading articles posted by others, hearing about experiences outside of my own, and finding recommendations are all reasons that I appreciate social media.
But, there’s always a downside, right? For some people it’s that they constantly compare the seemingly perfect lives of others to their own, resulting in discontentment or even anxiety. Maybe the overload of information induces guilt about how you’re raising your children. I’m embarrassed to admit that as a reactionary, extroverted, opinionated person, I can be easily baited into less-than-respectful dialogue.
You may be deep in the trenches of diapers, night feedings, and toddler messes, but I’m past that and into the days of mostly older children. And if you have pre-teens/teens, you can’t avoid the topic of social media with them. I know many parents who have decided not to allow any social media at all for their kids until high school, or even until they’ve graduated. I also know parents who put few restrictions on their children’s social media lives. So, while I’m not here to tell you what’s right for your family, I’ll give you a glimpse into what’s working for us.
Our middle school and high school kids are allowed to have a Facebook and Instagram account if they wish. They vary in their interest level and time spent on social media, so there are things we have to work to enforce with one kid, but not the next. Still, we knew we wanted to establish rules as we navigate this world that didn’t exist when I was a kid.
There’s no such thing as privacy. We have their passwords, which they can’t change without our permission. We check what they’re doing online, including all text messages or other messaging systems. If we suspect they’re deleting stuff, away goes the phone/device. We have possession of phones/devices at night so that social media isn’t happening in private. And, we keep impressing that anything done online is out there forever.
Social media is a privilege, not a right. If school work isn’t completed or there are chores to do, no media. Want to get on Instagram? Better check with me first. Abuse of the rules results in suspended privileges.
No friends/followers/following without our approval. Kids may resist believing that the person on the other side of the social media account isn’t who he or she says, but we know better. I can’t completely protect my kids from everything, but I’ll try my best to keep them from becoming easy prey for online predators. That means I keep tabs on who they follow and who follows them, and have veto power at any point.
It cannot replace actual social interaction. Healthy, in-person social interaction is still the best way to make and cultivate relationships, and those will remain our priority. If we become concerned about a retreat from real world relationships in favor of increased social media relationships, you better believe we’ll shut that down.
To be clear, we don’t do this perfectly. When my oldest was 15, we were horrified and embarrassed to learn things about a platform she was on, which we naively assumed was safe. And though she had not done anything wrong, hadn’t broken any rules, we had to cut her off from it. It was painful. She was devastated, we felt guilty, but it was a good lesson and reminder to us that this new online world can be a big, scary place.
Only you as a parent can decide the when/if of navigating social media with your kids. We feel strongly that we’d like them to learn to use it responsibly while in our home, rather than making it taboo and a road to rebellion. But we aren’t fooling ourselves into thinking it’s always safe or easy. I’m guessing that our guidelines might shift as social media shifts, or as we experience things that inform our parenting. It’s really hard! And if it hasn’t yet, your day of dealing with this is coming, so get ready, mama. You can do it.