My husband and I didn’t become social media users until just a few months before our oldest turned 13. In our home, 13 is the age where things like FaceBook and Instagram become available to you. For one, because it’s when we believe our children might be capable of ‘handling it’. (handling it placed in parentheses because do any of us really handle it as we ought, all the time?!) Secondly, because in order to agree to the terms and conditions of using either site you must state that you are 13. So, if your kids don’t like it, simply blame it on the site. It’s not your rule, it’s their’s 😉
Before our oldest son got the privilege we decided we better figure it all out. Our reasons for not being on social media prior to this were simply that we knew it would be a time suck and time around this house is a precious commodity we weren’t willing to share with people we might sort of, kind of know. However, this was important.
The hubs and I made accounts and started adding friends and figuring it all out. We learned about privacy settings and loopholes in sharing content and explored these beasts the best we could. Not because it was our favourite way to spend our time, in fact it wasn’t, but because parenting well is our priority and if our kids read it, watch it, listen to it, shop at it, sign up for it – we will too. Or at least we’ll check it out and make sure it’s appropriate.
We’ve noticed that somewhere along the parenting road there’s a shift. Like, remember when you found out you were pregnant and you read all of the books? And then your baby didn’t sleep so you got all of the info on that? And then you had a toddler and there were more books? And you decided your 5 year old should probably start school so you did all of that research? Yeah, all of that is because you’re a good parent who wants to be well informed about the ways of babies and toddlers and schools and make the best choices possible for your kiddo.
It turns out that kids grow up and we figure things out and life plugs along for a time without a huge need for more research and books. We fall into a groove and we chat with other moms in the school line up and we just roll with it. Often along the way forgetting about the books and research and needing to gain extra knowledge.
We didn’t realize it until we hit the almost teen years. It was then that we figured out that the same way we needed to know what to expect when we were expecting, we needed to know what on earth was going on with teenage hormones and bodies and all of the things that they were into. We needed to learn how to talk to them about big and important topics. We needed to learn what substances were available in their schools, how their peers were handling the dating scene, how WE wanted to handle the dating scene. And lastly, we needed to learn more about how teens were using the online world and social media sites and we needed to be prepared to talk about all of it with them, make boundaries on how to use them, and be a presence there with them.
I don’t know how things work in your home, but in ours, we’re always all just kind of around. If one boy has a friend over, the brothers are in the mix. If a few buddies are just hanging out, I engage in conversation with all of them. If there’s a group of mixed genders on the couch watching a movie, we’re walking by often to ensure we like what’s going on in the room. Our kids friends will know quickly that this is not the house to try and sneak things because room doors are always open and electronics are never taken to places out of our site.
We decided early on that if this is how we are in real life, involving ourselves in what our boys are into and who they’re hanging around with, then this is how we would be in their online life. That means we’re friends with them on Facebook and Instagram. We comment and tease on each others pictures. We dialogue with their friends on their sites. We are very much a presence in their online world and everyone can see it. In fact, one of our boys school mates commented to our boy that they don’t ever comment on his photos because his mom and dad always do! When I asked my teen if he would rather we didn’t, his response was an enthusiastic, “No way! I want you guys on there more than him!”
We’ve learned a lot from being a part of our boys online worlds. We see who they’re hanging out with, what kinds of things their friends are posting about and what sort of language and comments they leave. We’ve learned that when other kids see that there are parents involved they aren’t as quick to post (which brings into question what they would be commenting that they don’t want us to see?) It also holds our boys accountable for the things they’re posting and saying because they know we can see all of it.
Thankfully, our boys have never been bullied or harassed online and while I can’t say for sure that it’s because we’re a presence, I can only assume that it helps. It also limits the number of selfies they dare post if you consistently (and lovingly!) mock them for each one. Cause if there’s another thing our teens generation needs to know it’s that a good selfie is not a major accomplishment and the feelings they get from all of those hearts and comments won’t last. Which is why they post another one. And another one. And another one….
All of this to say, the online world should simply be a natural extension of your real parenting world. If you want to be involved in your kids life, you should be involved in their online life too! Even though you don’t get it, or don’t know how it all works. Be there and let them know you’re there and soon enough it will just be normal, like you hanging around in the kitchen making dumb jokes with their friends and showing embarrassing photos of when they were in diapers!