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?