Parenting in the social media age

By Sarah Nelson, Central Rivers AEA Technology Services Coordinator

Parenting is hard. Parenting in an age of social media, instant access, and constantly changing technology is even harder. Common Sense Media recently reported that children ages eight and under spend an average of two and a quarter hours a day using screens (TVs, DVDs, mobile devices, computers, video game players, etc). What is even more shocking is the average teen spends nearly nine hours consuming media daily, not including time spent online for homework. That is a lot of time spent online! As Kevin Honeycutt, national educational technology speaker, posted on Twitter, “Our kids are growing up on a digital playground and no one is on recess duty.” Parents, it is our job to make sure we are not only parenting our children in the “physical” world but also in the “digital” world; both worlds are equally as real to our children. These five tips are an attempt to help you navigate the digital world with your child.


Tip #1: Educate Yourself

Know what sites, apps, and games your children are using. If you do not know what something is, do an internet search to find out. For example, if your child is using Periscope, do a simple search with the question: “What is Periscope?” Once you learn more about the purpose of the tool, explore it for yourself. If you discover the tool is beneficial and inline with the values of your family, create an account and join your child online. If it is not, skip to Tip #5.


Tip #2: Set Ground Rules

Set time and place limits for device use. Shared spaces, like the living room, make it easier to keep on eye on your child’s online behavior. Set up nighttime technology routines. Just as you may have an established curfew for your child, determine a similar curfew for screen time use. Reducing bright light and stimulating activities, such as media use, 30-60 minutes before bed has proven helpful in preparing for restful sleep. Another routine to consider is creating a device “parking lot” where all devices get turned into a specific location, away from bedrooms, where they are left to charge overnight.


Tip #3: Friend/Follow your Child on Social Media

To open a social media account on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Snapchat, or Kik users must be at least 13-years-old. While 13 seems to be the required age for most social media use, 25% of Facebook users are actually under the age of 10. If you decide it is time for your child to have a social media account, friend and follow your child online. While you will want to keep an eye on your child’s online behavior, avoid overdoing it. Respect your child’s online space, just as you would respect their space offline. In addition, encourage your child to create a good digital reputation. There are too many stories out there of star athletes and valedictorians losing their college scholarships due to their online choices.


Tip #4: Be a Good Digital Role Model

As parents, we know our actions go a lot further than our words. The same holds true for our digital habits. Curb your own bad digital behaviors and set aside tech-free family time. Challenge yourself to put your device down while watching your child at soccer practice or supervising a play date at the park. Dinner can also be a great time to disconnect from technology and catch up from the day. When you do choose to use technology, show your kids how to use technology as a creation tool (code, design a 3D model, compose music, write stories, and make art) rather than passively consume media. Research shows, 64% of teens and 78% of tweens are passive technology consumers; they use it primarily as a tool to watch, listen, read, and play with media largely created by others.


Tip #5: Embrace the Teachable Moments

Start early by creating an atmosphere of open communication with your child. According to the Family Online Safety Institute, 70% of teens hide their online activity from their parents. Children will sometimes create fake online profiles, delete their browsing history, close out of windows or apps at a moment’s notice, or turn down their screen brightness to hide inappropriate online behavior. By using digital mishaps as “teachable moments,” parents have the opportunity to help their child navigate the online waters. As a way for your child to create a filter or lens for their online choices, choose a well-respected family member or friend and regularly ask your child, “What would [insert name] think if he/she saw this posted online?” Discuss with your child the notion that if they would act differently if [insert name] saw the post, than they should not be engaging in the behavior.

Let it be all of our jobs as parents, teachers, friends, and community members to work together to create a safe space online for our children to create, connect, and grow into responsible and caring citizens – both on and offline.