Monday, September 15, 2014

Preparing Kids for Social Media

The Headlines:

I am scared to death of this topic.

So I'm writing about it.

I want to be prepared.  If it's possible.

There is not a topic that scares me more.  Not one.

My son, at age 3, knows fully and completely how to operate I-Phones, I-Pads (which he so cutely pronounces Ah-Pad) and I-Pods possibly better than me.  I'm sure your child does too. But while he plays on them with such enthusiasm, he has no idea of the real power they hold.  He won't for a while.  My 8 year old daughter, on the other hand, is discovering it.  Slowly but surely.

Social Media is a beast.  A beast that is so very untamed.  Sure, things can change in the next few years.  Before she really gets into it.  Perhaps for the better.  More likely for the worse.  During that time, I can prepare her and me.

Good vs. EVIL
I will say this for Social Media.  In my mind, it can be compared to a Superhero or an evil villain.  Like Batman.  He can use his power for good or evil.  He chooses good.  When people hop on Social Media, especially young, growing minds… they need to make a conscious decision whether they become Wonder Woman or Cat Woman that day.  It can be an incredible tool or in some cases it can be as harmful as a handgun.  That's a lot for a child to handle, don't you think?  Too much.  They need our help.

Yet so many parents, very good, super conscientious, concerned and loving parents are absent from that part of their lives.  In the words of Julia Roberts as "Pretty Woman" back in the 80s': "Big mistake.  Huge."

No Privacy Please
Let's go back a bit… when social media came on the scene I was dumbfounded.  We were such a private world before.  As a reporter, I remember my News Director at the time didn't put our email addresses on the screen as we spoke on camera - I was told he was trying to protect us from mean/negative/degrading comments people would send.   Most people said good things but I heard plenty of cruel things too.  I always figured, it went with the job.  But back in the day, we were used to staying kind of "arms length" from the viewer.  Facebook and Twitter… blew that up!  Suddenly, it was like nothing was a secret.  Everything was fair game.  Celebrities, reporters, sports figures, politicians and regular people were telling everyone their every move.  Huh?  It baffled me.  It still does to this day.  I was required, by my job, to get in on the action.  So I did.  Although reluctantly.  Plus, I kept it completely work related.  Others did not.  I still am not a big poster.  All things considered, I'm rather private.  Yes, I get the irony of the blog for sure.

Love/Hate Relationship
It's a love/hate, right?  I love love love that Social Media can bring people together who live worlds a part.  I appreciate what it does for business and lost friends.  I think it makes our world seem so much more cohesive.  On the other hand, I hate that it can separate good friends with one, off handed comment.  I despise the fact that it can destroy a person's self worth, that it isolates those who let it.  It's awful that many of us now type more and talk less - that some of us live for the camera and not for actual life.  Social Media can expose people when they should remain hidden.  In very simple terms: it brings out the best and the worst in human kind.

Now imagine that in the hands of a 13 year old.  Or younger.  It's too powerful.  It's like giving your child a bomb to carry in their bac pac and telling them - be careful - don't let it hit the ground.


Lately, I've been talking to parents of older children and I hate what I'm hearing.  Think about it.  If Social Media can wreak such havoc on adults… what will it do to our children?  Or shall I say - what won't it do?  So I pose these questions.  Have you thought about your answers?  Even if you haven't joined the party yet… your kids invitation is coming soon.  Prepare now.

When is the right age to get a child a phone?  
Answer: That depends on the circumstances.  My friend won't give her 7th grader one yet and the little girl is DYING.  But her Mom knows it will open a huge can of worms and she can no longer "protect" her.  Another Mom I know had to get her son a phone in 5th grade because he was at the golf course all the time and needed one for protection and convenience.  I will try to hold off on a phone as long as possible.

How do you monitor it?
Answer:  Any way you want.  You're the parent.  I know a Mom who takes her son's phone every night and inspects it top to bottom.  She looks at FB, Twitter, Instagram… wherever he goes so does she… he can not hide and he knows it.  Some may say it's an invasion of privacy, I would counter no one has privacy when they are on the internet.  If your kid wants privacy - write in an old fashioned journal.  Or pick up the phone to have a conversation with an actual friend.

How do you protect kids from social media?
Answer: The simple answer is you don't.  You can't.  It's impossible.  I may fully trust my daughter or son but they may not be the problem.  It's the other guy.  A friend of mine told me a story the other day:  her daughter is now a freshman at a private school.  She went to a local public school for junior high but switched for high school.  She had a phone.  One day, recently, when she went to her new school an old friend started a group text.  By the end of the day there were 300 texts/pictures on it.  They were raunchy, inappropriate and down right sickening.  She said "Mom, make it stop."  The Mom wrote an email to the text creator that said, "stop texting my daughter." The boy replied something like, "you're not the boss of me and I can do what I want, my Mom knows what I do!"  She replied, "give me her number!"  Her daughter then proceeded to receive HATE texts.  Things like "such a baby," and "boo-who," to "you going to commit suicide now?" It went that far.  Hateful, mean words from people who were supposed to be her friends.  Fortunately this girl didn't care very much since she was going to a new school… but what if she did care?  Those words can be devastating. Words like that can ruin lives.  And she did nothing wrong.  She wasn't the problem.  It makes my stomach turn inside out.  Because in cases like that, what's a parent to do?  Protecting your children is almost not an option.  You can't police other peoples kids.

What Can You DO?
Answer:  You can't fully protect your children from the beast… but you can make sure they're not gobbled up by it.  Understand the newest, coolest app and decide if it's okay to use.  No means no.  If you don't approve it - they don't use it.  That SnapChat thing where you post something that disappears in 6 seconds is nothing but trouble.  What good could come from something that someone sees for 6 seconds and then "never" appears again (yea right, by the way)!  Also, limit the amount of time kids can be on the phone.  It's not to use all day and all night.  There's probably an app for that.

Does FaceTime replace face time?
Answer:  Absolutely not!  Do everything you can to get kids in front of actual people.  Invite friends over, plan outings, do things!!!  Conversing, seeing, interacting with 3 dimensional bodies make people care more about others.  Hiding behind a screen interacting with, at best, a face through a camera can cause kids to almost feel as if what they do isn't reality.  Almost like they're living in a game.  But it's far from a game and can have real life consequences.

In full disclosure here, I'm not a psychologist.  BP (the husband) calls me Dr. Nicole because I think about all this stuff a lot and out loud.  But I am a woman who has children and cares about those precious little beings more than anything in the world.  I want to protect them just enough so that they can effectively grow and become productive, amazing, educated, conscientious, empathetic, strong working fixtures in society.  If you're reading this,  I'm pretty sure that's what you want too… good luck to us all.



  1. My 1.5 year old can say iPad...I'm just not one to :shelter" my kids...and it's gonna keep changing, so I'll just take it as it comes... sigh...

    1. no, not shelter. we can't do that entirely - see it's a fine line. we have to protect them without sheltering them completely. such a balancing act!


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