Facebook. Snapchat. Instagram. Kik. Yik Yak. Tumblr. Twitter. Vine. Google+. What’s App?. Whew! How in the world to keep up with parenting the digital child today? Every day it seems that there are more and more social media sites parents need to be aware of and understand. A recent Pew Research Center study showed that 92% of teens are online daily with nearly 25% being on “nearly constantly”. Anymore, the question isn’t is it screen time but rather when ISN’T it screen time?
Everyone has already heard the many warnings for teens to be careful of their social footprint and yet so many young people don’t use privacy settings, post things they will likely regret at some point in their adult future and have “friends” they don’t know one thing about really. Apps are so plentiful that parents can’t keep up with them and often don’t know what their kids are using. Some apps are designed to keep parents out!
One “kids only” app, called After School, has restrictions and algorithms to make sure only high school kids can use it…..anonymously. Cyberbullying has often been the result. There are just so many avenues for kids to be connected, whether positively, negatively or somewhere in between, that it’s hard for parents to know what to do. None of today’s parents had the option to be SO digitally linked in (no pun intended).
Dr. Dan Siegel talked about 3 things that greatly contribute to teens’ desire to be constantly online. First, the way the brain processes physical sight (i.e. visual stimulus) is to boost dopamine, the pleasure neurotransmitter, when there are compelling images. So, it’s like people get a little drug hit when they are looking at new and “compelling” images online and it reinforces itself. Second, because there’s no “end” to the internet, people are left with a feeling that there’s more to do/see and there’s no sense of completion the way there is with finishing a book, for example. Finally, there is a chronic fear of missing out that pushes teens especially to feel the need to always see what everyone else is doing. It becomes a perpetual cycle.
As parents, it’s important to understand what draws kids and teens and admit we feel it ourselves. Modeling restraint when it comes to our devices is the very first, crucial step. Talk through the benefits of being “bored” which is when creativity often flows. Teach young people, and yourselves, to be able to work through uncomfortable feelings like boredom, sadness, anxiety or loneliness instead of turning to a device for instant gratification. (Thank you Glennon Doyle Melton for raising that issue).
Set limits. Yep, not only is it really ok but it’s important that you do. Have no-device times in your household. Create contracts that set out responsible use and monitoring expectations and make sure that consequences are included. Talk to your kids about how to be safe, responsible and respectful in using technology. Set the expectation, and back it up with behavior, that you will intermittently check to see what’s happening in your child’s online life. Also, create safe and open spaces to talk about what they are doing (and experiencing from others) even without your monitoring.
Parents often worry that getting involved in their children’s social media will just make the kids go underground. I suppose it depends on how it’s handled. The good news is there is actual research on nearly 600 kids between 12 and 17 that showed a combination of checking/monitoring privacy settings and interaction around what gets posted and how to make corrections after negative postings is the best overall strategy.
I won’t bog you down in all the technical language but essentially a highly engaged but not controlling method of parental involvement helps teens limit their risky behavior while having meaningful online interactions. There was a warning that some of the riskiest behaviors, which occur on apps like Snapchat, Secret and Yik Yak, are frequently under the radar for parents. So, establishing a habit of open discussion and not being overly reactive will likely help somewhat there too.
Technology is here to stay. There are risks and benefits to it just like everything else. Be involved, have limits and consequences, don’t be afraid your kids won’t like you. Then, hang on for the ride! Share your best stories below, we all tend to learn better from each other.