Social Media and Connecting with Your Child

by Eileen Wacker on Mar 31, 4:59 AM

Social networking is the most important communication channel for our teens and tweens. If you are not connected to their world, it is hard to effectively parent them. Social media trends are accelerating and exploding, and how our tweens and teens feel about themselves and act toward others is directed related to their experiences online.

Let’s face it, we are raising an “iThumb generation,” and they are creating norms faster than I can type a text. I have four children aged 14, 14, ten, and nine years old, and they all have electronic devices with various social media apps and services. My husband and I constantly wrestle with how we can be good parents in this unfamiliar new world. We are done with the delusion that if we disallow a phone or a Facebook (FB) account, we are in touch with what is going on or effectively protecting our children. I instead have added “social media trend spotter” to my mom job description.

As a mom, I already have a hard time keeping up with my children and their busy schedules. Trying to raise great kids is exhausting. I am stressed and tired, and the specter of one more giant issue to address was daunting. But becoming social media savvy has actually simplified my life. If I can guide and influence how my children use social media, I can directly impact three things: their safety, common sense, and manners. Here are some things I’ve discovered.

Unfortunately, an electronic device is the signature of your child. It is not as simple as, if she has an iPhone 5, she is spoiled or indulged. It is much more complicated. Our nine-year-old got an iPhone 4S for Christmas. We used to silently look down on parents who gave their nine-year-old kids a phone. Now I work, and my kids are constantly in motion so I need them to have phones. So my area of concern is not when any more, it is how my kids are using the electronic devices. And social networking is the big kahuna of how.

One of my children is on Facebook, and all four are on Instagram. Several are on Snapchat and have add-ons to Instagram. They are not on Twitter and have no desire to be. I have a rule that they must accept me as a follower, and I need to know their usernames and passwords. Seems like common sense but I have to go further. There is a trend on every playground. The kids are collecting “likes” and “followers” and “friends.” This sounds innocent but we need to watch. There are apps to see who “unfollows” or “unfriends,” and this is creating drama. The kids are using these apps to bully others, making them feel isolated if they don’t have enough friends. Kids are measuring their status now by the number of friends, followers, and likes they have. It is a form of competition and a new barometer of being popular.

Here are a few comments I gathered from my kids and their friends:

“She keeps copying every photo I take and posting it; I’m not going to like or share anything she does.”

“He unfollowed me and asked all his friends to.”

“A bunch of kids unliked a girl’s photos and FB posts because a popular boy likes her and one of the group likes him.”

“Today, we were sitting in a group and Elena sent a text to me and Miley talking about Sara. I didn’t laugh but Miley did and I thought Sara was going to cry.”

Kids are using their accounts to include and exclude people. They are including the wrong people to increase their friends and likes. They are excluding peers as a power play and not understanding the ramifications of the pain they’re causing. They also post pictures that can make them targets. They post a photo of their front door or of themselves wearing a school t-shirt or a bathing suit. They are still naïve and do not understand how to judge appropriateness. They do not understand that they might be viewed by a sexual predator.

Here are some recent conversations we had with our kids:

I said to my 14 year-old daughter, “You can’t block me from seeing anything. In return, I won’t post on your wall.” She agreed.

My husband said to our 14 year-old son, “You turned your phone tracker off today.” Our son replied, “I had my phone turned off for school and forgot to turn it back on.” My husband said, “No, you have to specifically disable it.” Our son confessed, “Okay at school, kids said parents who do this are cyber stalkers.” We took his phone for a day as punishment.

Our nine-year-old posted a quote from an inspiration site on Instagram that read, “If you love someone set them free, if he comes back he’s yours, if not, call someone and get drunk.” We made her take down the post immediately and then had a family meeting about appropriate content. She got off with a warning.

Our ten-year-old unfollowed our nine-year-old after an argument. She came in crying. “I only have nine followers and he’s unfollowing me to make me look like a loser.” We discussed how this is a form of bullying called “social media shunning.”

My son asked if he could get the app that lets him know who unfollowed him. We said no. But it does not change the fact that he cares about who unfollowed him.

My son said, “There’s a nine-year-old at my school who has 435 followers on Instagram, and she makes her photos public.” I cringed, as this means anyone can access and comment on her photos. “Does her mom know?” I asked. “I don’t know,” he said. I am tempted to call the mom as I’m sure she has no idea.

My 14-year-old said, “An eighth-grader I know has 10,000 followers.” They explained how you get schoolyard cred for having lots of followers. We explained the risks associated with buying into this. They looked at us like we don’t get it, so we set limits on numbers.

For Facebook, we ask our children: How many friends do you have? How many close friends do you have? We go through them and set a limit. We set up their FB pages and make our children list us as a close friend. It’s exhausting but necessary. Because if you are not participating, you can’t have these important conversations with your child.

Other social media trendspotter news–

Teens and tweens consider LinkedIn and Pinterest to be for older people, and dismiss Myspace as old and forgotten. Twitter is not interesting for most teens and tweens. Most use Blogspot in school as many teachers are using it to host interesting discussions with their classes.

Google+ is getting more popular with teens and tweens. It is basically a safer Facebook. It is a free app if the user has Gmail.

Snapchat is a free app that allows users to create and send short videos. The video is deleted after the user views it. Keek is another video-posting app. The hugely popular Instagram has just added video capability.

Texting is still intensely popular but increasingly used to send information and photos; kids also love apps that allow you to add a comment.

Skype and FaceTime use is on the rise.

Add-ons are king:

FotoRus—adds special effects to photos.

Pixlr-o-matic—adds special effects (more than Instagram and works with photos or Instagram).

Kik—instant messaging with Instagram.

If your kids are on any of these, get on.

My ten-year-old asked me a great question today. “Why would you join Snapchat?” he asked. “No other moms are on it so you won’t have any friends to chat with.” “I have you and your sister for now,” I said. “And that’s awesome.” And it truly is. I love being connected to my children. When one of them likes a photo I post or a FB entry I make, I feel involved. I love the discussions they create, and we actually have more things to talk about face to face.

Many of their most important conversations are happening via social networking, and the trend will only get bigger. You will know so much more about their daily life if you get connected. Stay quietly in the background and it will bring back the days when they were little and talking in the backseat, forgetting you were driving. I loved those adorable chats and hearing the kids interact. Now we are just doing it in a modern way—with electronic devices.