When your children are asking why they don’t get to do something all their friends are doing, “If everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you do it, too?” just doesn’t cut it anymore. They’re talking about social media and internet usage, which, for many teens, seems more serious than the life-or-death cliff illustration.
As of 2015, 92 percent of teens were online on a daily basis, with 24 percent using the internet “almost constantly.” With nearly a quarter of teens spending pretty much their entire day online, it’s no wonder your child feels left out when he or she isn’t allowed to do it.
How can you acknowledge your children’s desires and stand your ground at the same time? It’s a tough line to walk, but considering some of the serious accidents and all-out tragedies that can happen when children get too caught up in social media, it’s incredibly important. Start here:
Do Your Research
Every social media platform is different. Recently, Instagram and Snapchat surpassed Facebook as the preferred platforms among teenagers. Take time to learn about the features of these sites and others that your children show interest in. Not only will you feel better about what you’re allowing (and restricting), your children will appreciate, whether they admit it or not, and might even be impressed that you know what you’re talking about when you are in a conversation about it.
Lay Some Ground Rules
A total social media ban will probably not be effective. Instead, allow for social media use within carefully crafted guidelines. Some parents insist on having access to the child’s passwords and/or profiles. With parental controls, you can set internet time limits (yes, it’s shutting off at 11:00!) or block certain apps or categories that you don’t approve of.
Communicate and Be Consistent
Allow your child to be a part of the rule-setting. Explain why you don’t want your child online all the time. Work together to decide upon fair punishment for an infraction. If those infractions occur, follow through with what you chose together. Make sure they know they can and should come to you if something happens online that makes them scared or uncomfortable.
Encourage Other Activities
Continue to encourage your children to explore “real world” activities and opportunities. If they can find a sense of belonging and build their confidence via art, music, sports, martial arts, school, or other hobbies, they’re less likely to rely on social media likes and shares to feel validated.
Connect With Other Parents
Open a dialogue with the parents of your children’s friends. Enter the conversation from a place of curiosity and concern to find out what they allow and why. You might be able to create a united front with certain parents, though probably not all of them. Keep in mind that some may get defensive about their choices or judgmental about yours. If you change your mind about a rule you made for your children, let it be because of new information, not emotion.
Trust Your Own Judgment
Every parent-child relationship is different, and you might sometimes find it difficult to connect with them on this issue, but you know your children best. Gather all the information you can, factor in your child’s unique needs and tendencies, and set the parameters you feel are right for your family, keeping in mind that technology rules and expectations will change and evolve over time.
Remind yourself that the restrictions you’re setting are to protect your family from risks that they may not fully understand yet: pornography that can easily be found or stumbled upon without the use of parental controls, online predators, photos innocently shared between friends that are later used to bully, blackmail, or humiliate, and even an increased risk of depression and low self-esteem.
Clearly discussing expectations with your children and teens and letting them know the potential consequences of failing to follow your technology rules is the best way to set them up for success.
We have had many parents tell us that they have together with their children’s friends parents and many have set up special groups at school to discuss together how to best develop similar technology guidelines. As you can imagine, this works well when you have children that spend lots of time together!
Once you talk to your child about what apps, websites, and categories need to be off-limits, as well as an expectation of how much time your child is allowed to be online each day. Choose a trustworthy parental control that works with you to achieve these goals as well as giving you peace of mind about your family’s internet usage, no matter what their friends are doing online.