Social media has been both a boon and a bane in the age of modern day parenting. Raising a smart generation is easy. Children take to gadgets like bees to honey. Raising a smart but responsible generation that uses social media appropriately and wisely is something else all together.
The challenge for parents, who are primary gatekeepers of what is desirable and undesirable, is in keeping up. Like it or not, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat (the list goes on), have all been ubiquitous features of modern digital survival that we live and breathe with.
Parenting Dilemmas in Social Media Management
While such applications are convenient, efficient and can be constructive, they also open the Pandora's box to a host of other not-so-good issues that most parents would be or should be acquainted with: digital addiction, pornography, preying, extremism, scam & fake news, cyber bullying, pornography and even (gasp) online drug purchase.
As parents of five children, with a teenage and a pre-teen, my husband and I have come to terms with the fact that we cannot avoid the digital tsunami but we can be mindful of how we can manage it. My husband and I took some time mulling over the pros and cons of when to allow our children to be smartphone users and what appropriate online applications they were able to access.
Ever since my daughter started to be the first child in our family to be using a smartphone, we've invested hours on end researching strategies to moderate her use of it, whether it is through reading and formulating social media contracts, trying out parenting control apps, setting time-outs and implementing privacy boundaries. In doing so, it feels like we have unlocked the dimensions to a whole new parenting universe; finding ways to keep up with social media controls and up the ante on our technological backwardness!
The 3 Ps of Purposeful Parenting in the Digital Age
Recently, I was invited to attend a panel discussion covering issues and trends in social media use and helping children build healthy media habits. The panel discussion, entitled “How To Raise Kids Wisely in a Social Media Generation” was jointly organised by Facebook Singapore, Flying Cape and Trainium Academy, and supported by the Media Literacy Council.
Held at Facebook Singapore Headquarters, it pieced together some useful insights on how to be purposeful in our use of technology. Here are my key takeaways in three Ps:
1. Plug into Relationships
The greatest asset we can create for our children in the digital age is the security and solidarity of our relationship.
More than ever before, our children and teens are looking outward for affirmation and something to rest their identity upon. They are constantly saturated with all kinds of images, influences and ideas in a one stop multi-sensory click.
In a transient online world where things are here today and gone in 30 seconds, tangible real life relationships are what counts and helps them anchor themselves and balance their perspectives.
Parents need to set boundaries for our children and observe their online and offline behaviour. We need to plug in…less into our devices but more into our relationships with our kids.
When we set rules and guidelines, we need to walk the talk ourselves and model what good online habits are. If we want our children to obey and heed the guidelines and limits that we set, we need to bear this quote in mind:
“Rules with relationship lead to respect. Rules without relationship lead to rebellion.”
2. Protect with Parental Guidance
Protection is not a bad word. There are so many things we can do to prepare a safe place for children to connect healthily online.
Image: Kapersky Kids
We can start by using privacy settings on our computers or blocking sites with unsavoury content as far as we can.
We can use time limits to moderate healthy versus excessive screen time.
We can take interest in reviewing the kind of material, movies, YouTube videos our kids are watching or keen to watch, and share with them our viewpoints on what is desirable, what is not and how to discern between the two.
We can teach them the lens from which to view what they read online with a critical eye. How do we discern real from fake? What makes this piece of news balanced and credible? Should we rant online? How do we use it social media positively?
The key thing is to educate rather than evade.
Rather than merely setting limits, take a keen interest in understanding social media trends and bring them up for discussion at the dinner table.
3. Personify our values
Image: Media Literacy Council
The evidence is clear. There's really no room for distracted parenting. If we have heard cries from our kids to “Put the phone away Mom/Dad when I'm talking” and we rationalise or justify it as multitasking, we might be missing the point.
We could be subtly rejecting communication and it makes our children feel invisible. Soon, they too might be drawn by the allure of media devices, and use them as substitutes for unmet attention and affirmation.
Here are some tips for us to personify the values of responsible media use as adults to our children.
Image: Media Literacy Council
Let's give our children a gift that's priceless, and worth more than any data plan. It is the gift of our presence: by plugging into them and taking interest in what they are doing, providing parental guidance and personifying our walk so that they know we mean what we say!
**The Media Literacy Council has produced an excellent online resource called Clique Click: Bringing up Children in the Digital Age, which is available here.
Tracey Or is a mother of five and a freelance writer. She blogs at memoirsofabudgetmum where she shares parenting anecdotes, recipes and frugal fun activities.