My teens begged for Instagram accounts. Then it was Facebook. And then Snapchat. And new apps continue to appear with great frequency. I resisted for quite some time. Isn’t a phone enough? I knew that once they signed up I would have to be super vigilant and get involved. It wasn’t that I was nervous about them entering the world of social media (I was, but the fear wasn’t stopping me), but I was not sure I had the bandwidth for one more thing. The edtech expert in me knows that in order to help kids develop a filter for right and wrong and appropriate and inappropriate, I would need to jump in with them.
It’s important for a parent to play a role when nurturing the social lives of children and be flexible as the children grow and that role shifts. First, with playdates I sat with the kids, interacted and suggested games. Then I spent more time with the parents of the other children. Then play dates turned into drop-off playdates, and now my children make their own arrangements to hang out with friends. I was a big part of their activities early on and then I gradually released them into the social world. And I feel we are experiencing that same kind of process with the social media world.
I realized that my work just got harder, but also possibly more fun. Now that my kids are on social media, I have the opportunity to get to know them in a whole new light. Kids’ social lives are built and maintained through both human interaction and social media interaction these days. Kids interact through social media in ways that replicate some of what would have been naturally face-to-face or via phone in another time. But even though technology changes the conversation, it also offers a chance to share a different interaction. I am having some conversations with my kids and they are sharing things they might not otherwise feel comfortable sharing.
A friend of my son noted that “obviously email isn’t the ideal way to communicate.” It wasn’t so obvious to me - Sure I know email is passe, but I hadn’t realized it was no longer an ideal way to communicate. So now I am learning new ways to communicate as well.
It’s time for my kids to explore this world and they are showing all the signs of wanting it and being ready. Social media is a tool for them to communicate and also a way to express themselves. My daughter is extremely creative and has already shown a flair for photography with just her phone and Instagram account. Imagine when she starts to play with light and perspective.
I know how dangerous it can be out there in the world wide web - and I don’t take the dangers lightly. But, it’s also an opportunity to teach independence and responsibility. It’s certainly made my life harder now - I have more responsibility as I help them navigate this new world. But this is my job. It’s my duty to help my children develop independence and accept responsibility. The vigilant monitoring was exhausting and time-consuming, but also the easy part. Now, as they are off and on their own, the harder task is letting go and helping them make smart decisions when I am not consistently monitoring.
The greater opportunity is in getting to know my children in new ways and the chance to relate to them through this new medium of human interaction. I have already learned new things about my children through their presence on the web, through their gaming experiences, and through their use of text messaging. This is part of their introduction to the world.