Some questions about social media are an absolute breeze to answer: Why is my kid so obsessed with YikYak? What does PIR stand for? Then there are the queries that are a lot more complex: How much should I let my child use her phone? Should I monitor my child’s social life online?
I completely understand why parents want easy answers, like “Don’t let them sleep with their phones” or “Monitor their texts.” But it’s really hard for our children to take us seriously when we come up with strategies like that, and there’s a really good reason why: We’re hypocrites who often base our rules on anxiety instead of facts. Maybe you disagree with me, but before you do, consider the following four points.
1. We adults are as just as connected to our digital devices as our kids. Even as we’re nagging them to get off their screens, we don’t admit that we constantly check our phones when we’re bored or jump every time someone reaches out to us. And just like our kids, we convince ourselves that we always have a good reason for checking our email, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
2. Many adults post about the same things our kids do. Sure, lots of parents describe their children’s online social lives as meaningless and a waste of time. They could be doing something more productive, like going outside and getting some fresh air. Right? Well, then tell me this: Why is what our children post about the party they went to last weekend more superficial than what we posted about the party we went to last weekend? And why do we spend so much time online when we should be getting some exercise or some sleep?
4. Everyone our children meets online isn’t a dangerous predator. Can we give our kids a bit of credit? Our children are “meeting” people they don’t know online all the time—especially if they play games online. If they have a headset when they play games, they are definitely talking to other people. Some of those people are annoying; some of them say racist, sexist, homophobic or just rude things a lot. But they aren’t physically threatening to your child.
Here are the stats: The vast majority of young people who meet people online and then meet them in real life fit a very specific pattern. I’ll say it to you this way: In my many years of working with young people, every, and I mean every, young person I’ve known who met a stranger in real life they initially met online was a 13- to 16-year-old neglected and/or abused girl who desperately needed attention and love because she wasn’t getting it from the people she was supposed to. The reality is that a young person who is vulnerable to online predators almost always has something very wrong in their real life that makes them turn to strangers.
Bottom line: As a parenting “expert,” I can give you lots of rules for your children about their online lives—whatever device they’re using. But none of these rules will work unless you have a relationship with your child built on mutual respect and their seeing that you live your life according to the same values you’re holding them to.
Do you think there’s a double standard when it comes to kids’ and parents’ use of social media? Post a comment and tell me.
Do you have a parenting question? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.