Social Media Resources for Parents
The internet can be a scary space. Social media platforms are developing at such a rapid pace most parents battle to keep up. This frightens parents, but it shouldn’t. The internet has made it possible to collaborate, learn at lighting speed and improve society. Mastering how to navigate it, is the key for your child to thrive modern times and in the future.
Playing catchup to technology is not a novel experience for humans. Look at the timeline of the car. The first combustion powered car left the factory floor in 1886. Seatbelts were invented in 1959 and only mandated by governments in the late 1980s! In many ways, the growth of social media platforms parallels this journey. We are still developing the safety belts for the internet.
The problem: You need to keep your child safe but withholding them from the internet will disadvantage them. Your child is most likely going to make a living from the internet or using social media. The collaboration ability of social media will help solve the threats we face as a society. So, you don’t necessarily want to discourage the use of these platforms.
Your role: Teach and show your child the rules of the road and safe navigation.
A parenting mindset for the internet
Micromanaging your child’s internet use will tire you and increase conflict. You don’t want to be the villain when they need to turn to you for advice.
Trust me, there is going to be a moment where your child will need your support and advice about something they experienced on the internet. When this happens, you want them to feel comfortable talking to you.
Plus, micromanaging your child’s internet use is not a sustainable strategy. You are already behind in the game. Your child knows a lot more than you think.
A mindset that will help you navigate this terrain is:
- Don’t micromanage
- Values over rules
- Empathy over judgement
- Boundaries as a filter
- Emphasize self-regulation
Table of Contents
Values over rules
Rules are limited to specific contexts, values are generalised. By reinforcing rules you become your child’s moral compass. However, by reinforcing values your child becomes their own moral compass.
You will not be there for 99% of your child’s time on the internet, therefore, you would want your child to become their own moral compass. If your family values creativity, discuss how their devices can enable this for them.
Empathy over judgement.
Have empathy for your child’s online interaction. They grew up with the internet, they do not know a world without WhatsApp, Snapchat and TikTok.
The internet is a source of connection and expression for your child, often in ways we don’t understand (I am still trying to figure out why dancing videos are so popular on TikTok).
Be curious about their online world. Look for opportunities to explore this universe with them. Ask your child to teach you how to play Minecraft, or do a TikTok challenge together.
Exploring their world will open up the communication channels. Having empathy will give you the ‘online street cred’ to set the boundaries when necessary.
Boundaries as Filters
Filter with intention.
Teach children to be their own filter on the internet. Before they post something, align it with a value. When they take a photo, help them reflect on their intention. Model this behaviour.
A metaphor that resonates with children is the idea of a ‘digital tattoo’. Everything you do on the internet remains there. So when you post something it is similar to getting a tattoo you can never get rid of. Next time you want to post or comment on something, ask yourself if you will be comfortable having this ‘tattoo’ for the rest of your life.
Filter content with critical thinking.
Educate your children on how the internet companies make their money. This helps them understand why they are incentivised you to stay on the social media platforms.
Encourage dialogue about misinformation, conspiracy theories and fake news. Misinformation and conspiracy theories have longer viewing times and more clicks. Therefore, social media companies push people towards videos or posts with misinformation. Having conversations around this encourages critical thinking and helps them become their own filter.
Be proactive about your internet boundaries.
Set parameters for your devices. Allocate a place and times for your phone and have a charging station for all your electronics during bed time. Schedule times during the week and weekends to allow screen time.
Remember your phones and tablets hook you. They will win your attention if you don’t consciously set the boundaries.
The top social media companies have ingeniously sneaked into your daily life. They use an entire list of psychological tricks to increase your usage. Your apps are built to create habits, FOMO, and dependence.
The longer you scroll, the more you can be influenced. The more you are influenced, the more money they can make. Unfortunately, this creates a power imbalance, tilted against your family. They don’t have to deal with the repercussions of continued use, your loved ones do.
Emphasize self-regulation (emotions and focus)
Learning how to control your actions despite your mood is a key skill for success. The more you practice regulating your emotions the better you get at it.
Phones stop you from practicing dealing with uncomfortable emotions. It is a quick fix but not a very sustainable solution.
When you feel bad your phone is there to distract you or help you avoid an uncomfortable situation. Outsourcing emotional regulation to a phone creates a habit of avoidance in pressured situations. Throughout their schooling career your child is going to face many stressful events (tests, speeches, sports, dating). You want them to still do important work despite their feelings. To persevere through tough tasks. So, don’t let the phone be stop your child from dealing with uncomfortable emotions.
Don’t outsource boredom.
Allow your child to be bored. Don’t outsource your boredom to their phone. Dealing with boredom is a great learning opportunity for your child. It teaches your child to take action and deal with emotions.
Playing, socialising, and being outside is great for overall development. Using a device to deal with boredom lowers a person’s frustration tolerance and narrows developmental skills just to a screen.
Focus & task switching
Allocate time limited focus times, where your child has to focus on one activity at at time, with no distractions. The switching between different tasks diminishes focus and productivity.
See your ability to focus as a calm lake. You want to keep the surface of the lake as calm as possible. The calmer the lake the clearer your focus. However, every notification or distraction causes a ripple in the lake and diminishes your ability to focus on the task at hand. (See this video for an elaboration). This becomes a problem for tasks that require a lot of focus.
Help your child to set boundaries with their devices. This can be done by switching off the notification, putting the phone on aeroplane mode, or keep it in a different room when working.
Sleep and the internet
Research suggests social media negatively affects children’s sleep. Having your phone next to you while you sleep is not a good idea. Notifications, the white light and FOMO will keep you awake. So don’t use your phone as an alarm or keep it in your room at night.
Demonstrate the behaviour you want to see in your child, so role model this boundary.
The better quality sleep will help with their emotional regulation and focus.
Is social media bad for mental health?
The short answer is, we don’t know if social media is bad for mental health. A very comprehensive study by Oxford found that social media in and of itself is not a strong predictor of lowered life satisfaction. It is more likely that if we use technology to outsource our emotional regulation, when we use it to distract ourselves or avoid important things, then it becomes a problem.
Safety on the internet
Educate yourself on the privacy settings
Friend Requests / Online Friends
- The person has little followers, or all their followers are of a certain gender.
- They are using someone else’s photo. (Use Google Photo search function to help with this).
- They are very adamant on moving the conversation to another less secure platform.
- You are being ‘love bombed’ by the person and things feel like it is moving too fast.
- They ask for money or explicit photos.
The Bird, the Bees and the Internet
Resources for Parents:
- Need Help? Rianette Leibowitz from SaveTNet provides great resources, trainings and connections to help with internet safety related topics: https://www.savetnet.com/
- Privacy Settings: This website helps you select the device, app and website you need help with: https://www.internetmatters.org/parental-controls/.
Books to read on Social Media Use
- Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World“>Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World by Devorah Heitner
- Parenting In A Social Media World by Charlene C. Giannetti
- Parenting in a Digital World: A Step-by-Step Guide to Internet Safety by Clayton Cranford
- Don’t Film Yourself Having Sex by Emma Sadleir & Tamsyn de Beer
- The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World (The MIT Press) 2016 by Adam Gazzaley, Larry D. Rose