Thursday, June 29, 2017

Guiding Kids in Social Media

This is a topic I have wanted to talk about for so long, and there are as many opinions on it, as there are people.  It seems like it is one of the big conversations that inevitably tends to come up when I'm with my mom-friends and seemed like a natural follow-up topic to my previous post on blogging.  We're all trying to figure it out, bouncing ideas off one another, seeing what works and what doesn't, aren't we?  We all seem to hit that wall when school is out for long breaks, or even weekends, when everyone in the room is "alone together," on their phones.  I know personally, I've walked around the room with a gallon-sized ziplock bag in hand and a grim look on my face, ordering people to power down and dump the phones into the bag.  (It tends to not be received well. Go figure.) I'm still learning.  But the truth is, we're all doing our best to navigate this age, and we're adults.  I mean, who hasn't gotten their feelings hurt by something they weren't a part of, or been fully sucked in to something entertaining or trendy?  Our kids are working through all of this with the lesser-formed coping mechanisms they have on hand, and it's up to us to lay down boundaries and guidelines and encourage them forward. I announced to my kids recently, that they will be leaving their phones at home when our family goes on vacation and I'm pretty sure they would have had the same reactions if I'd announced they would need to leave one of their arms behind.  (In all fairness, we'll be in another country with no cell service and no way to charge phones anyway, so bringing them is pointless.)  But... it's that FOMO mentality.  I didn't even know what that was until recently.  It's "Fear of missing out" because all they know is a world where everything is shared, from what someone eats to where and who they ate it with and when. 

Not long ago, I stood chatting, at an event with a mom of toddlers, and at one point in the conversation, she clutched my arm in a frantic sort of mother-panic, and demanded that I tell her exactly when she should give her children phones and Facebook accounts. I  looked at her askance and said, "Hey, I'm still figuring it all out, so don't look at me like I'm an expert on this!"  I'm a long way from having absolute answers or perfect responses, but the collective wisdom of my girlfriends who are walking the road of motherhood in this day and age have pooled into this post alongside me, and I hope that it is of some help to you! 

*Our first approach with kids and social media is (and should always be) one of compassion. As parents, we have this unique platform of seeing more of the whole picture because of our age and experience.  Because we know the pain a Facebook post can bring, PLUS the pain of adolescence in general, we can open our hearts and arms when our kids are mad as heck because they are hurt and can't pin-point why.  It's so easy to forget that they might be reacting to something they saw an hour ago on social media.  I've learned of things much later and put two and two together on why a situation went down the way it did.   

*Secondly, having too many rules can be overwhelming, so coming up with a few absolutes that can be bent when needed is really important. I know, that sounds like an oxymoron.  But what is parenting but that?  As parents, we're constantly assessing situations and making snap moves on what is needed. Kids love and need boundaries.  They feel safe with them.  But...we need to be able to see over our parentally-constructed boundaries enough to be flexible with our children, to keep them from sneaking or rebelling against what could feel like domination. (My kids never respond positively when they are feeling dominated.)  For example, in our home, we have a "phone on the chargers at seven pm" rule because bedtime is roughly around nine, and that gives enough time for decompressing.  But... often sports or work or even homework overlap that time where a phone may be needed, so we keep that a loose rule.  (Common-sense, loose "rules" tend to work really well in my experience, because if nothing else, it makes my kids feel heard, and gives them a chance to plead their case when it comes to different instances that don't work for blanket rules. When I was a teen, this was huge for me. I had thoughts and opinions on my curfew and went round and round with my father to get a case by case approach.) One child needs a reminder, the other watches the clock and doesn't need to be told to get the phone plugged in, so we work with that.  We also regularly enforce "no phones in bedrooms" with the reasoning that it's very isolating.  It's one thing to have everyone on the sofa on a phone... at least, they are together and can interact if they want to, but once in a bedroom, you could seriously not see or hear from a child for days!  Kidding.  Mostly. We willingly make exceptions when a child asks politely and respectfully (key!) to listen to music on their phone while cleaning etc.  I generally remind them that if they find themselves texting or on social media, the phone needs to come out and we haven't had much trouble with compliant attitudes.  All that to say, that there are days on end of non-stop phone-faces, and I finally say, "Okay everyone, we're phone-free this afternoon." Giving a little bit of a head's up so they have time to accept the impending isolation (wow, right?) is very helpful, as opposed to the power-down-and-dump-into-this-ziplock approach!

*Thirdly, having grace when needed.  We all make mistakes in life.  In a few short years my children will launch to college and beyond and they may use up all their data or get addicted to a game and struggle with making themselves sleep.  My hope is that I've taught them what should be done, as well as that if it's not, there are always consequences and then it's up to them. I used to imagine all kinds of bad things happening.  Some of them have, and we've done our best. Not perfectly, but we have tried to have both love and respect for our kids as they fail and learn.  My husband is awesome at starting with grace and gets all the credit here.  (I'm more strict so I rely on his kind approach to balance the hammer I tend to want to lay down.)  That said, we have at one point, removed a phone from a child (when warning after warning went unheeded along with disrespect) and went back briefly, to giving them a nice flip phone, rather than a smart phone.  The thing is, we talked it out before hand, and worked through a way for our child to stay connected socially (since this is a much bigger deal than one might think when they have littles) thus saving face with friends. (This is important to us because our goal is never to shame our child but rather pull back their boundaries temporarily for the purpose of correction.) We made sure that the child understood this was temporary and could be earned back by changing or doing certain things.  It wasn't a cake-walk for us as parents, and the child certainly wasn't happy at the time, but it achieved the result we were hoping for and some things were learned and changed in the process.  Being gracious but following through is important. And really, not being afraid to pull a plug.  As parents we're the ones paying the media bill, and can remove a device or phone, convert to a lesser phone, install passwords that need permission, put restrictions on the plan, etc. I think parents can feel so powerless when they ask for a phone to be handed to them, and a teen stands there gripping the device and angrily blurts, "No!" Here's a little truth tip-We aren't ever powerless as parents, because we are the ones who generally front the dollars to pay for it and I think it's SUPER important to remember this! A teen can defy in the moment, and honestly, it's their right to choose to act that way, but they can't get away with it in the long run if you're calmly in control.  It's a simple thing to calmly say, "Well alright, it's your choice to be defiant (a wrong choice, mind you) so there will be consequences, one of which is that I'll be turning your phone service off until your attitude turns around and you willingly hand me your phone when I ask for it. You let me know when that will be."  We do have one other really good boundary in place in our family that has been great- after 9pm, we get email notifications of any text or photos being sent or received on kid phones. I'm not saying we've ever dealt with this...(ahem) but... I would strongly recommend this boundary. I'll leave it at that.

*Timing.  There is a delicate balance on how soon a child is ready to brave these waters vs. making your child wait and being the last to be allowed technology or social media.  If you put these tools in their hands before they are ready, you may be navigating hard things earlier than you plan.  (You'll be navigating hard things as time goes by regardless, I can almost promise you that, based on about every conversation I've ever had with my friends.)  We've all got a story.  If you wait too long, however, your child might feel left out and the spotlight may be on them because they are the only ones who are still being treated "like a baby" in their friends eyes.  Each child and situation is different and you've got to know what your child is feeling and facing to make this call. Before even getting phones, a lot of my friends have printed up contracts which can be found on the internet.  Some have worked well and some haven't.  Regardless if something is signed or not, a few things to consider are- preparing your child.  Maybe instead of signing up for every form of media, they pick one, that you monitor well, like Instagram.  Beforehand, you can share examples with them, of Instagrams gone wrong. (It's not hard to find some examples that are impolite, disrespectful, inappropriate etc.)  One thing that worked well for us, was saying that we'd like to see anything that was getting posted from our child, before it went live, just for the first month or so as we helped guide our child in learning what and how people should/could post.  It was very relaxed and agreed on beforehand and it's not an issue anymore.  (Talking about being kind, not naming names, being too personal or emotional publically, keeping things set to private and making sure they know every person who wants to follow them, can all be very good talking points BEFORE your kiddo embarks on a new account).

*Help. it does take a village.  I used to be frantic about needing to be on any social media that my children were on... then I started to realize that my husband and most of my friends were out there too, having my back.  And I've got theirs since we all follow each other's children.  So important!!  Keep your kids close and keep your girlfriends' kids close too! Ha!

In closing, my only other thought is, that there are probably about a dozen more thoughts we could chat over on this!! For example, how summer is a game changer because they just want to be on a phone all the time. (We have a "rule" that if your phone battery is dead, it's time to put it away for the day, not on a strategically placed charger that buys you more sofa surfing.  This generally happens by noon in the summer so I bide my time... Ha!)

We are mostly pioneer parenting in this topic y'all so if you have anything to add to this, please share in comments so we can all benefit from your experiences and wisdom too. 

Stay diligent out there sweet things. 


  1. Sounds like you are doing a great job!

  2. Excellent advice and it's so awesome how well you and your husband work as a team. SO important and not always the case. My daughters had a high school (required) class at their excellent high school that worked through some of this and had school standards in place that were helpful. Your advice is so spot on and impressive. Your kids are lucky.

  3. Your thoughts are fabulous ... and I wish we lived closer so we could have coffee and continue the conversation. I have four kiddos, ages 11-17, and the whole technology thing has been the single hardest part of parenting AND marriaging (since we aren't a completely united front)! :)
    I'm proud of YOU for the thoughtful effort you have put forth. Your kids are growing and flourishing. Kudos, mama!

  4. I really appreciate the advice of first and foremost having compassion for our kids when it comes to this issue (and any issue really!). And it's clear you respect your children's wants and needs and can balance that with the boundaries you discuss. My daughter is heading into preschool, so will be years before we are dealing with this specific issue (I hope!) but I think these general guidelines apply to so much of parenting. Even if I don't like how my daughter may be behaving, I can have empathy for where she may be coming from while still being the one calmly in control. It sure feels hard sometimes to keep my cool but so worth it when we can stay connected to our little ones!

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