Social media: the means of interactions among people in which they create, share, and exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and networks. (Wikipedia)
Sounds harmless enough, doesn’t it? Sounds almost necessary and educational according to the above definition.
As a parent, if I was asked to visually define social media, the first thing that comes to mind is an enormous, towering transformer – like beast, casting a large dark shadow, complete with heavy doors which open and close allowing only the brave to enter, loudly slamming shut behind them. Okay – I concede it’s a little dramatic but despite my own familiarity and understanding of said beast, I feel as though I need to go back to seeing it as something new and fearful in order for me to navigate it as a parent of an almost ten year old girl who in the coming years will will commence her journey into the online space. I may not like it, but it’s going to happen unless the internet blows up so I figure I might as well do it correctly, right?
As an adult, I think I’m largely across it. Obviously I ‘blog’, I use Facebook and Twitter both personally and professionally, I ‘LinkIn’, I ‘Tumble’ and I ‘Pin’ (albeit badly) therefore based upon experience, I feel that I know how to control it so it’s largely a controlled, positive experience. Having said that though, I have also witnessed it turn very dark for some who don’t have their social media radars on and this is how I assume it can so easily go wrong for teens (and pre-teens) whether they are the target of negative comments or have witnessed things which should come with a suitability rating.
When our kids are little, we as parents are acutely aware of their precious ‘clean slate’. Their minds are filled simply with butterflies, sandpits, the first taste of chocolate cake and an abundance of parental hugs and kisses (assuming all has gone well for them from an environmental perspective). I have always been quite protective of that ‘clean slate’ and while I know a controlled exposure to life is necessary, I still feel that less is more when you’re talking about kids under ten due to our inability to predict how they’ll process it. I recall recently, Miss O sitting at the laptop in the kitchen doing some basic research on the human body (skin, organs etc) and it was all going well and harmlessly to a point. Let it simply be said, that one should not be left alone to enter the term ‘human blood’ into Google – it doesn’t end quite as harmlessly! (Picture me diving in slow motion across the kitchen, a slow droning “nooooo….” escaping from my lips, eventually slamming the laptop shut, Matrix style). Clearly, opening up the online space is like exposing that clean slate to an environment which is difficult to control or drip – feed and often contains things that even we as adults are unable to handle appropriately (Charlotte Dawson and the Twitter trolls come to mind immediately). So what’s the right age and the most harmless place to start for generally well – rounded kids? When is it an appropriate age for them to receive their own mobile phone (get your head out of the sand if you’re defiantly saying never!) bearing in mind that mobile phones are also a device for texting which is something I put front and centre under the social media umbrella? I’m sure in a nutshell it simply comes down to the age, sensibility, perceived maturity of each child and what their parent/s believe they can handle responsibly. And in addition, perhaps some good advice from the likes of Australian Child And Adolescent Psychologist, Michael Carr-Gregg (and others).
I would suggest from my own perspective, that there are many conversations that need to take place between my kids and I in order for them to make good choices when it comes to social media. Over the years, we’ve given them the stranger danger talk countless times, we will give them driving lessons and hours of practice before they’re allowed to take the wheel of a car on their own and I don’t think entering the world of social media is much different. In their interactions with each other online, perhaps the lesson that you should only say to each other what you would say in person is a good start (kindness and respect being the assumed first reminder) and also putting a suitable age on certain social media outlets based upon their personality and recommendations, regardless of what is happening in other families.
So the letter than I received from our school this week which asks questions about our social media use, and mentions the term ‘sexting’ (gah!) should not scare me, but be cause for me to open up the debate now while it’s still early.
If you’re a parent of a teenager or pre-teen, what rules apply in your house when it comes to social media? I would love to hear the perspectives of others (and the irony of learning from others via social media is not lost on me!).