When it comes to kids and social media we are in new territory. No generation before has ever had to deal with social media or the myriad of issues that comes with it. We haven't even identified all the issues yet! We also have no idea what the long term effects of social media and technology as we use it today are.
So, what do we parents do with these online and mobile mediums our children are flocking to? We can listen to "experts" but I feel like even experts are simply making their best guesses about what is right for our kids in this arena. We can ban social networks and online gaming altogether risking our kids becoming either outstanding individuals or a social lepers, or we can let them loose into the virtual world and hope for the best. There is a third option, of course, where we can try to find some middle ground.
I feel like we used to have a pretty good idea about how children developed intellectually and emotionally based on the way they interacted with the world around them. Touching and manipulating objects and communicating with family and friends live and in person all contribute to growing and learning. I don't want my child to miss out on those experiences because they have been replaced with virtual simulations. At the same time, I know that my children need to learn about technology and that I want them to be able to communicate with their friends. When I was a tween and teen I was on the phone constantly talking to my friends. We also wrote notes to one another daily. I suppose this is really equivalent to what goes on today with texts and sites like Instagram and Facebook. The only difference is that there is a much more permanent record of you online and in text messages than there ever was with phone calls and paper notes that found their way to the trash can. The only way we ever learn not to make stupid mistakes is by making stupid mistakes and it is a given that every kid is going to say or do something they regret later on. In this age, we just have to really hope that they don't do it for all the world to see.
I am sure that with every new technology, be it electricity, radio, or the telegram, there were those who questioned it, opposed it, thought it came from the devil, or deemed it a passing fad. Some things are fads, while others become such a staple in our culture that in a few generations we laugh and wonder why people made such a big deal about it when it came into existence.
Keeping these sorts of things in mind here are just some of my strategies when it comes to social media and online gaming in my kids' lives.
1) Balance: I try to ensure that my kids' online experiences are balanced with real world ones. I don't want all their interactions with friends to take place online. So, "Sure, you can talk to your friend on Instagram for a half hour, but while you are doing that why don't you invite them over to have a playdate or a sleepover?" With my son, who primarily plays games, I want him outside for a while before he even thinks about the iPad or the Wii. I also ensure that the tactile and sensory experiences are happening regularly. I work a lot and it is easier to let the kids (and myself) sink into relaxing online in the evenings, but I try to force myself to do some sort of activity with them when I can such as cooking, board games, or kickball. I also have the kids in lots of extra curriculars like gymnastics, swimming, scouts, and music lessons.
2) I Spy: Say what you want, but I spy on my kids. When I agreed to let my daughter get an Instagram account, that was part of the deal. I have access to her account on my phone and I read it regularly. If she were to post something that I think she'd regret later for whatever reason I'd delete it. I also check who is following her and ensure it is only her real life friends from school and the neighborhood. When I once saw something that might hurt a friend's feelings I had her take care of it. Often she hates me for being so involved but she's 10 and that's just the way it is. Every now and then she loves it when we interact online with one another and sometimes she even laughs at my jokes. With my son and his games I have to make time to sit with him and get to know and understand each game with him. I had no idea what Minecraft or Angry Birds were and there are other games like Clash of Clans and Dragonvale, too, that once threw me for a loop. I had to learn these games and watch him play because 1) I want to know what he is doing and what he's into, and 2) I have to see exactly what happens here to ensure it's safe and age appropriate, plus 3) I want to spend time with him!
3) I Limit Myself: This one is easier said than done but I am aware that I may have contributed to the attraction my children have to technology. My husband works in technology and is always using it. I work a lot from home and since becoming a mom I, sadly, have to admit that I interact with friends and family more online than in any other way. If I am sitting on the computer in all of my spare time how can I possibly expect my kids to do anything different? For this reason, I have to force myself to take time away from the screen and to pursue other things like reading, cooking, crafts, or even just my house cleaning. There is a direct correlation to how much time I spend online and how much time my kids do on any given day.
4) I Allow: I permit my kids to use technology for a number of reasons. One is that if you make something forbidden they are only going to become even more intrigued by it. Another is that this is the world we live in and they should know how to operate within it. A third I have to admit is a bit of peer pressure. If they want to do what all their friends are doing and it does not seem harmful in any way, I don't want to prevent them from fitting it (again IF they want to). However, there are limits.
5) I Ban: There are some things I am not comfortable with and I have to set limits. I have parental controls on the iPad my son uses. My daughter really wants a YouTube Channel because her friends have them and I don't allow it. I have allowed her to make stop motion videos with her toys and post it to my account but she is not permitted to post videos of herself unless it is private and only shared with family and again it has to go through my account so I can be sure of this. Some websites are off limits as are some games. If they whine and complain I remind them that they do not have to use these things at all if they don't wish to follow the rules.
6) I Teach: My kids know how to write a letter and use a dictionary and encyclopedia. They balk and wonder what the point is since we have computers but I feel like they should know what life was like before. For all we know one day it might revert back. Stranger things have happened!
I know some parents that don't allow any technology for kids older than mine. I know some with younger kids who have full cell phone plans and unsupervised Youtube accounts. Some parents ban games that I allow and allow games that I ban. We're all just figuring this whole thing out and I don't really think there is a right or wrong here. Every child and every family is different. I think the thing that matters most is that we we put thought and care into the issue and that our kids know we love them.
What are your rules on social media and online gaming?