So, here I am tackling this topic. Not because I think I know it all. You know me by now, hopefully, and know better than that. But if you don’t, let me introduce myself: I’m Julie, less-than-perfect wife and mom who started blabbing right here about DIY a while back and sometimes throws in a post or two about deep thoughts on life when the mood strikes.
And when the mood strikes (and by mood, I mean when God won’t let me ignore it anymore) and I write about parenting, I will always beat you to the punch to tell you that my kids aren’t perfect, before you can reach into your pocket and pull out the list of reasons why. But the good news for them, as well as all of us, is that God uses less-than-perfect people. And hallelujah for that.
For months I’ve been feeling the little tap on my shoulder, so to speak, telling me it’s time to write something about kids and social media. And today is the day, so there must be someone stopping by today that needs to hear this. There is so much that could be said on this, and there are so many more capable people to say them, but since I’ve been asked by several friends and family about how we’ve dealt with our kids and social media, I will share a few things here for someone else that may like to hear it.
I want to preface all of this info by saying, as I’ve said in the past, there is no one-size-fits-all formula for raising kids, whether it’s dealing with social media or any other aspect of parenting. No one can tell you everything to need to do to parent your child perfectly. You can seek out advice and learn from other people’s experiences, but at the end of the day (more accurately all through the day) it is only God and His word that can equip you with what you need to be the best parent. And in case you forgot, since He is the one who gave you the job, you are the best parent for your child.
So, obviously, I’m a fan of social media. I couldn’t be much of a blogger these days without it. But, it was a whole new ballgame when we opened up that door to our kids. We have 4 kids: ages 17, 16, 11, and 8. And yes, our 2 teens are on social media. But only Instagram. And don’t go looking for them there. I don’t want them to be found by strangers, which brings me to my first point.
1. If you decide to open the door to social media for your kids, be sure you keep the key. We let our teens get Instagram a couple of years ago, with a long list of stipulations that went with it. We set the rules, and they have to be followed, or the Instagram goes away. (I’ll get to a few of those rules later.) We waited until they were teens to let them get their accounts because we felt they needed to reach a certain level of maturity to be able to join. Plus, it’s a privilege that comes with age. I don’t know if there’s a magic number that means a child is mature enough to be on social media, but I do know that there are plenty of kids on that have proven themselves to be too immature. As the parent, you must be discerning of your own child to know at what age they can handle the privilege and responsibility.
We only allow Instagram at this time, mainly because we only wanted to have to monitor one social network instead of several, and Instagram is the most popular among kids their age at this point as well, so they’re not really even interested in other networks right now.
One of the main concerns of parents when it comes to social media is the safety and security of their kids. Obviously, that’s a viable concern, so when it comes to privacy settings, keep them on and explain to the kids why strangers are just that: strangers. Tell them about predators and why we must guard against them. Be honest and open about it. Scare them with the ugly truth if need be. They will need to understand how important this is before you consider going forward.
2. Always be one step ahead. I mean literally. The minute you agree to let your kids be on social media, you better be one step ahead. You are going to have to educate yourself how to use Facebook or Instagram or whatever the outlet, and you cannot let yourself be left in the dark. It seems there are two extreme sets of parents out there when it comes to philosophies on social media: The ones who let their kids do whatever they want with no checkpoints or limitations, and the ones who steer far away from it and forbid their kids to be a part of any of it. I know these aren’t the only groups because some of us are in between, but these are the extremes. And, once again, it is your right as a parent to choose for your own child, but I can’t help but think that some are avoiding the issue just because they are too busy or too intimidated to research it and stay on top of things. It does take work to figure some of these things out, but you can do it. And you can do it by joining the network yourself and using it, which is my next point.
3. Be friends with your kids. If you decide to let them on social networks, you should be on them, too. The most basic accountability checkpoint will be you being friends with them or following them on their social network. Not only will you be able to insure that they are following your rules of conduct on social media, but you will automatically be involved in their lives on a whole new level. And this, my friends, is one very important argument in the case for allowing your kids to use social media. After all, I have found that one of THE BEST WAYS to keep your kids close and have a great relationship with them is to be involved in their lives. And guess what? Social media is a big part of the lives of this generation. It’s not going away anytime soon. It’s only going to become bigger, and if we do not get on this train, it will leave without us.
Some perfect examples of getting out of comfort zones and into the unfamiliar realm of the next generation are my parents. I can’t say enough how proud I am of them because as soon as my teens got Instagram accounts, my parents got theirs, too. (Again, don’t look for them because they don’t want to be found.) They are the least likely people to want to get on social media. They like their privacy, would never post a selfie, and could care less how many “likes” they get on their pics. But they joined because they know the world is moving forward, and if they want to be as involved as possible in their grandkids’ lives they have to be willing to get on the train.
My mother-in-law and all my kids’ aunts and uncles are alsoconnected with them,allowing them to all be a part of their lives on a regular basis, even when we’re separated by hundreds of miles.
Another important bonus of being friends with your kids is becoming “friends” with their friends. You will get to know their friends on a whole new level, and you will also have an opportunity to influence those friends who may be in need of a positive influence in their lives.
4. Ride shotgun. One of the best analogies I can think of when it comes to kids and social media is driving a car. This is probably because both of my teens are driving, and I’ve thought a lot lately about the importance of PRACTICE. There’s a reason why they require kids to to have plenty of practice with a licensed driver (and even Driver’s Ed) before receiving a license. It’d be crazy to hand a kid some keys on their 16th birthday and say, “See ya later!” if they’ve never driven a car before. They could wreck the car and hurt themselves or someone else. And the same goes for kids and the internet and social media. If they aren’t properly trained on how to use it, they could wreck their lives or someone else’s. The fact is, it’s very likely that all our kids will be joining social networks in the future and may even be required to use them in their careers. Like everything else in their lives, we need to be the ones training them in our own homes, rather than let them figure it all out on their own.
I don’t have to expound on the fact that there’s not a mom I know who would want their child exposed to pornography or other improper pictures. But, words can also be very damaging. We must really drive home the fact with these kids that once something is typed or spoken on a social network, it never fully goes away. Our words are powerful and we must be accountable for them.
Sometimes it’s so much easier to type or text things than it is to say them. And this can lead to saying more than we ever meant to say. You’ve seen it as much as I have: examples of people on Facebook writing out statuses that I can’t imagine them actually saying to someone face to face.
And just like we teach our kids to be careful with the words they speak, we need to teach them to be even more precautious with what they publish to the world.
There have been a few times I’ve had to tell one of my kids to delete a comment they wrote or change the way they said something because I didn’t want it to offend someone or be taken the wrong way.
And then there have been the times when I’ve let them comment or post something that I didn’t particularly love, but I let them do it because sometimes the only way to learn is from your own mistakes.
And if you have a deeply poetic soul-writer like I have, let them be who they are sometimes and resist the urge to comment, “HUH?” when they write something deeply poetic and soul-written. There will be enough critics waiting for them out there. They need their mom to be the cheerleader.
5. Stand firm. Rules were not made to be broken, no matter what James Dean said. Be clear from the beginning about your guidelines for using social media, and if you need to add more as you go along, then so be it. I’ve already mentioned a few of our rules, but here are a few more:
-Keep the privacy settings on, and don’t accept strangers to follow you.
-Never post a pic or make a comment that would humiliate someone else.
-No following people who post pictures of themselves improperly dressed.
-No posting pics of yourself improperly dressed (pajamas, bathing suits, etc.)
-No following people who use bad language.
Yes, we’re strict. There are actually a few more specific rules we have which I won’t mention publicly because I don’t want to embarrass my kids further, which leads me to one of the rules for parents–
Resist the urge to publicly humiliate your kids on social media. Whether it be a particular pic they hate or that comment that you’re dying to post under their pic, remember that they need to be able to trust you and you don’t want to do anything to drive them away.
I may have to eat these words tomorrow, because that’s just how life is sometimes, but after a couple of years of following these basic guidelines, we rarely have to correct our kids with social media issues. They have learned some important life lessons from having it, and when my son goes to college next year, I’ll be even more glad he has it so I can
stalk him keep in touch with him even more.
One last thought on kids and social media… Just because the world finds ways to use the internet and social media for evil, do not discount the fact that Christians can and should be using it for good. I know for a fact that I have made important, God-ordained connections with people through this blog that I never could have made otherwise. There is no limit to what God can do with our kids. He may have big plans for them to influence this world for Him. He may even do it through social networks. We just need to get them started in the right direction!
I hope this has been helpful for those of you trying to make a decision about your kids and social media. If you have more guidelines or tips that may be helpful for parents, you’rewelcome to share them here!