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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Should Kids Engage In Social Media?

There’s much discussion over Michelle Obama’s decision not to let her daughters on Facebook.

And she’s not the only parent wrestling with this decision.  Well before our children will encounter other milestones – like driving, dating, and staying out late with friends -- we have to make some serious decisions about their use of technology and the internet.

I for one believe these are difficult decisions.  Writers like Amy Sullivan remind us our teens are spending almost 8 hours a day online!   But social media isn’t all bad for our youth. For example, social media has actually engaged Generation Y in politics (a good thing, in my opinion). 

But my kids are still too young to take the plunge.

My son, Nick, is almost 10, and he’s already bugging me for an email account.  I’m just not ready to go there.  (And, no, he doesn’t have his own cell phone yet.)  Yet other parents tell me that mobile phones help them communicate with their kids and even track them with GPS! 

Right now, I just tell Nick that we’ll revisit the issue when he’s a bit older.  I also give him access to my personal email account to communicate with out-of-town family members and friends. And he’s known to read my blog and hang over my shoulder when I’m Tweeting. By some parents’ standards, I’m already giving him too much access to the complicated world of social media.

So what’s a parent to do?  I’ve found that most parents fall into some combination of the following three categories.

1)  Don’t ask don’t tell. 

Some parents simply don’t want to know.

Kids will be kids.  There’s nothing I can do to, so why bother to get involved. 

Others would rather engage in denial.

My kids will never abuse technology.  They know better than that!

These parents shudder to find out – after the fact – that their daughter has been posting inappropriate photos on MySpace or their minor son has an online (older) girlfriend.

2)  Social media is the Devil.

Other parents simply ban social media all together.  They cut off access at home.  They spend money on blocking devices. They caution their kids about the dangers of the online world.  Even though the minimum age for Facebook is 13 years old, they insist that their children are 18 (or older) before maintaining any type of internet profile. 

While these parents appear extreme, the rest of us can understand their fears, particularly with the threat of child pornography and unhealthy online relationships.

3)  Get involved and stay involved. 

Still other parents – like me – plan to strike a balance.  We’re not exactly pushing our kids to join start Tweeting at age 13 (I’m not sure any 13-year-old has the judgment for Twitter -- some days I’m not even sure I do!) but we’re going to expose our kids to the online world on our terms, which means we have to get involved.

The parents I know who successfully strike this balance tend to share passwords (and friends) with their kids, implement privacy settings, and visit their children’s social media sites at least once a day. 

There are no easy answers. And, as a parent, I know I need to stop worrying about what everyone else is doing and try to do what’s best for my family.  (And, if I were in Michelle Obama’s shoes, I don’t think I’d let my daughters on Facebook either!)

What’s your social media strategy for your children?


Unpolished Parenting said...

I can remember my mom standing over my shoulder as I chatted with friends on AOL instant messanger & it bugged me so badly. If I laughed about something she wanted to know why. I was beyond annoyed with her.

Now as a parent, I can see the need to be involved. I hope to find a good balance of letting my kids become connected and censoring them to a degree as well. But if I had to err, it would be on the side of caution when it comes to kids and social media.

Bonnie R. Paulson said...

I didn't have much exposure to the internet growing up. True, there wasn't a real knowledge of it like there is today, but it was around.

Social media, the internet, whatever, is still on the computer and the computer is a screen. This is included in our daily screen time. I get more than the rest of the family combined because I work on the comp and write as well, but everyone else only gets 30 minutes to an hour depending on age, etc.

THe kids would rather watch Spongebob or Phineas and Ferb than waste screen time online. SO far this works for me.

Great post!

As an aside, I don't "Friend" anyone i know to be under 18. I don't think it's appropriate and I don't want to add to the situation if there is a chance they might see inappropriate content (some of my family is, put nicely, inappropriate at times).

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Yeah Michelle! Proud of that decision.

Number 3. I'll take what's behind door number 3.

I like the balance and am hesitant to have my kids on FB. I know what it did to me when I first got on it, a world of connections, the door to my past opened...etc. I don't know if kids can handle some of the mature decision making that comes with certain social networking sites.

Our computer will always stay within eyesight and I'll prob be the loser mom that takes forever to let my kids have their own phones.

Loser mom, Wendy (and proud of it!)

Work, Wife, Mom... Life! said...

i dread the day that i have to think about this. I didn't get my first email address til college... college. i didn't do instant message or anything like that til college. so i'm not sure how to respond to my 8 year old (when she reaches that age) and wants a cell phone or an email or whatever. i see so many kids nowadays who do have cell phones and it CAN be a good thing for them to check in with you, but it's a tough call.

Julie Cragon said...

Our rule is cut and dry and unpopular. No FB or cell phone until high school, but my recent 13 yr old may have to wait until college. As we all know, each child is different. Even then, I do not friend any of their friends. I hear parents talk about getting on their child's FB account to see "what's going on". Get up and walk in the other room and ask them. Talk to them. I know I've probably been lied to more than once but face to face I feel like I can see it in their eyes and take care of it immediately. Plus it always gives me that chance to talk to them, be with them and tell them I love them. I am all for social media as long as it doesn't get in the way of old fashion personal touch.

Erin MacPherson said...

My kids are (fortunately) too young for social media, too. I'm sure there will come a day. It's a tough decision. My gut reaction is NO WAY, NO HOW but we'll see when they're a little older. Like 30. :)

BigD said...

I'd say you're on target.
We're fighting the cell phone fight right now. I've been surprised how many parents--even the ones I thought never would!--have given in to their kids. We're hanging strong. Where is my 5th or 7th grader ever that they aren't supervised??? Nowhere. So, no need for a phone.

We might loosen when we get to the driving phase, but that will likely mean the driving kid can borrow my personal cell phone (since I also have one for work). And--guess what--there's not texting on that one!

We let the girls get email at 5th grade. But the email account is set up on The Husband's work server (he's the admin) and copies of everything in and out go to his inbox, too. It's quite funny, because the girls know it--and really don't care. They just get creeped out if we ask them about something that The Husband and I obviously talked about. (Like who are the girls coming to a sleepover.)
My 7th grader thought we were such losers that all we had to talk about was HER emails. (Yeah, our lives are so wrapped around the kids, that's all we have to talk about!)
We're dodging FB right now. She's asked a couple times, but we've not gotten to it. It will come with lots of rules though!