There’s no denying that Social Media has changed all of our lives. We’ve become trained to check our devices frequently, share our secrets with strangers, and often feel real anxiety or depression when our devices are damaged or inaccessible for long periods of time. Knowing this should immediately make us run for the hills. But instead, we buy the latest equipment, download the latest trend and continue the cycle. But what about our kids? Are they playing safe? Can they? Let’s explore the topic.
According to the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, “it is important that parents become aware of the nature of social media sites, given that not all of them are healthy environments for children and adolescents.” Social Media does come with benefits (enhanced communication skills, technical proficiency, and group interaction). It also comes with some serious hazards (depression, isolation, real-world social anxiety, and a loss of objective thinking). With so many children being given access to these new and evolving (often unregulated or adequately monitored) technologies, the world and how it thinks is actually changing.
More and more, I see that people that once sat and objectively reasoned about politics, trends or their personal interests are now defaulting to a herd or group mentality led by a perceived consensus. For example: if a mechanic has a strong online presence and a great rating, people will tend to prefer to go to that mechanic. Whereas traditionally, you might ask your family or friends if they knew someone they could refer you to. Make no mistake, these changes in our behaviour are by design. Our technology is teaching us how to be more predictable shoppers, voters and people in general. Still, this does have a lasting effect and for a child, it can be overwhelming.
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Perhaps more interesting is the fact that most countries have not caught up to the new horizons of these technologies. Subsequently the laws are often ineffective or inadequate to deal with crimes like online fraud, cyberbullying, sexting, etc. This is highly evident with recent government bills, which seek to increase regulation and/or allow them the ability to lock down or control what we as a society are able to see and interact with online.
Knowing all of this should send up red flags everywhere. Yet, we are a vain society and we do want these technologies to exist. We continue to support them and even I check my professional social media accounts periodically throughout the day. Even if I don’t want to check them, the apps are designed to remind us to look at them through notifications of various kinds.
Social Media Trends and Children
It is understandable then, that our kids are even more ingrained in these behaviours. They literally grow up with these social media trends accepted all around them. So what do we do about it? Is it even possible to get away from Social Media? Sadly, not really. You could keep your child away from the internet and never let them email or chat with anyone else or play online games but in the modern day, that isn’t very practical. Online learning, meetings and employment is rapidly becoming the new “normal” and as such the new focus needs to be on creating healthy online habits.
You and your child(ren) need to make time for healthy offline activities like walking, visiting a park, travelling, etc. Times that are just about the family being the family. You also need to allow your child to interact with their friends in an offline capacity from time to time.
Protecting Your Children
When online, you and your child(ren) should learn how to protect your personal information. Form safe passwords, learn how to identify websites that are safe or risky to visit, understand that while there are things you can do to protect yourself on social media, anything that goes online is accessible whether you like it or not. (Often even if you are using a privacy app!)
Don’t be afraid to ask questions!! Your children deserve your respect, love and attention,. But they are still your responsibility and they are not entitled to any level of privacy that puts them at risk. Encourage frequent, open and respectful communication If you want to know something, ask them. If they aren’t willing to to discuss an issue that you feel is not safe or puts them at risk, then you still have the right to change that dynamic. Electronics are a nice, fun, and entertaining privilege but they are not a right. Establish rules for safe access, encourage open dialogue, and (dare I say it?) FOLLOW THROUGH.
If you are seeing behaviours in your child(ren) that are not positive and you attribute those changes to their access to technology or social media – change the playing field. Work together to decide the rules, but you have the final decision and follow through.