One very interesting topic that has brewed a lot of controversy recently has been the issue of our kids gaining access to social media and all that comes with the tech-savvy age. All this coupled with us trying so hard to secure our senses from all that tends to seep in from the media through the things we see or hear without even putting in any effort.
Many parents I’ve come across are caught up in this dilemma, wondering what to do with their kids, pre-teens and even teens.
A brief overview of Social media and what it entails
Social media is a term for online platforms people use to connect, share content and grow social networks. When we expose our kids to social media, here’s what we’re giving them the power to do – to create online profiles, upload photos and videos, chat, post comments, create games, corelate with other game users and so on. Some of the most popular social media platforms include Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, Pinterest, Skype, YouTube, Snapchat, Viber etc.
All of these are cool stuff. In fact, the media and tech age are a very integral aspect of a child’s creative process. In this era, building digital literacy is a great skill for our kids. I believe the internet has made our kids smarter and that kids who have access to the internet for further learning and research have a greater edge.
As a parent, however, you have a tougher job to do. How do you curb your kids’ use of phones, the internet and mostly, social media? From most of the research I’ve been exposed to, the tools itself are not the issue. It’s the use of these tools, apps and software that pose a problem.
First, you must know that you cannot put a stop to the kinds of apps and software that find their way into our space these days. The best you can do is to arm yourself with enough knowledge to be able to beat them at their own game.
Speak to your kids about screen time
Your kids have access to different forms of screen time. It could be Passive, Interactive or Constructive. It is passive when that time is spent seeing a TV program or movie. It’s interactive if it’s spent exploring apps or playing video games. But my favorite use of screen time is when it’s constructive – that is, spent writing, creating music, coding, designing a website, building an app and so on. It is your job as parents to determine which of these your kids spend more time doing, no matter their age.
Do not relent in speaking to your kids about what they’re watching online. Also, help them find balance with what they spend their time doing. One of the best tools you can give them is the ability to self-moderate their time. You can also show them what appropriate screen time limits should be like.
A pre-teen has no reason for having unguarded access to social media.
As much as there are numerous benefits for allowing our kids access to the internet or social media, we must thread with caution. There are risks that we cannot afford to toy with. Once our kids have access to the internet, we start to worry about what they’re reading or seeing, as well as who they’re interacting with.
Draw up a Tech Contract before you even think of getting them that device
With almost everything happening on social media being a façade – a direct opposite of what happens in real life – our kids, if not taught about how to mitigate these risks will fall deeply for them. In order to avoid this, it’s okay to introduce them to the rules of engagement, just like we have in real life.Let them know what’s acceptable and what’s not. Let them know you’re monitoring their activities, but first, you have to build trust.
Instead of banning the use of these tools (which you can’t anyway, they’ll always find a way) put control measures around its use. Use internet filters or safer browsers. Limit the number of apps on the device and ensure you have open access to them. A clear majority of parents do not have an idea what their kids do at night with these devices. And so, it’s okay to have your kids submit their devices every evening after the screen time limit is over. Expose your kids to safe browsing habits. Create boundaries – which they’re bound to cross, anyway – but at least, they know there are boundaries.
Don’t stop dialoguing with them. In fact, allow them to lecture you through these new trends. This empowers them and helps you learn the ropes as well.
Help them manage their media footprints
I’m all for the techy kids. But you’ve got to help them manage their media footprints. Talk to your kids. Let them know the adverse positive or negative effects of their footprints now or in the future. And just like everything else in life that’s got boundaries, I totally love what a Bloomberg contributor said about this issue.
“Adults can reclaim their lives by getting off social networks, turning off all notifications and perhaps installing an app that limits screen time — but not by throwing away the phone, which can still be useful in myriad ways.
“The same applies to kids. By all means, give them a phone – they’ll end up owning one sooner or later, anyway. But determine which apps can be on it and lock access to the rest.
“Even trying to hack your defenses will be a more productive pastime than watching dumb videos and sending emoji back and forth.”
Please do drop your thoughts or comments on this topic below. I look forward to engaging with you.
About the author:
Amy Afebuame recently kicked off My Writing Corner for Kids and Teens, a platform set to help kids in building and harnessing a reading and writing culture, to encourage self-expression, research, instill confidence and positive exposure in youths. This will help in the development of kids writing and reading abilities, whilst catching them young.
Amy is a Creative Writer, Editor and Director at Aimee’s Library & Recreational Centre. The creativity enthusiast is very much engaged in influencing the world around her through books and other educational resources. She is totally sold out to developing smarter kids who constantly improve themselves and develop a healthy reading lifestyle through her monthly kids book club activities as well as other biblio-events.