When I talk to parents about their kids on social media parents are generally concerned. They are often uncomfortable with the degree of sharing that goes online, and are suspicious of the whole social media thing. Because of our mistrust and concern we tend avoid it all together.
I strongly believe that parents should be on social media with their kids. Many parents open an account so they can see what it is all about, but are hesitant to actually connect with their kids online. In fact, the general feeling seems to be, that it is an invasion of our kids privacy if we ‘friend’ them. I feel differently.
If we are only friending our kids so we can check up on them then, yes, something isn’t right in that. That looks like popping up unexpectantly when our kids are out with their friends – just to check on them. Unless our kids were prone to very unwise behaviour, I doubt we would do that.
Checking on our kids seems to be the only reason parents have as to why they would join their kids online. Have you thought about this? Like everything – if we know our why, then our how makes more sense. Why would you join your teens on social media?
There are two reasons I join my kids on many of their social media platforms:
This is completely consistent with how I deal with every other aspect of family life. I am not checking up on my kids but I am involved in their life.
Be on Social Media to Train your Kids
Since social media is here to stay parents must teach their kids how to do it well. We must teach them the necessary skills – in a sense the life skills:
- How to use it and not be controlled by it
- How to be involved online and be true to your identity
- How to relate to people and maintain your integrity
- How to be safe – physically, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, morally
Though we can teach them the principles of these things without actually being online, we cannot help our kids as they practice unless we are there with them.
When my kids opened their Facebook account they knew that not only would I friend them, so would their siblings, and we would engage together. This wasn’t a threat – it was an outworking of our parent-child relationship and our family culture.
What training looks like:
Training covers two things – the heart and the skills.
The heart: The heart is synonymous with our beliefs, values, and character. For my children to use social media well they need to see it as a part of their life – not a separate entity. It is still dictated to by their beliefs, values and character. We need to help our teens see this as true.
The skills: Whatever social sphere our kids move into their behaviour needs to be dictated by our values – the respect of other people, the honouring of God, being truthful to self. Teach your children to relate to people online with the same good manners they would in any other social setting.
Being online also requires some critical thinking skills – this is where we learn to assess what we are reading or sharing as true or wise. Two acronyms helped us with this
THINK: Is it true, helpful, inspiring, necessary, kind
THRPLE (which is a take on Phil 4:8) True, Honest, Right, Pure, Lovely, Excellent
Whenever we talk to our kids about these issues we have to be careful we don’t lecture, be emotive or come from a place of ignorance – if we do our kids will switch off. We need to share our concerns and teach the skills we see necessary in a respectful way. Our teens need to know that we trust their intentions, and we are simply giving them the skills to do it well.
PARENT TIP: When my kids were in social media training I had notifications on my phone, and I took my phone with me wherever I went.
By being my kid’s friend online and by engaging with them in that media when I have seen something inappropriate or unwise then I have been able to go to them privately (not online) and talk them through it. Just as I would never address them, or correct them in public face to face, neither would I make my training public by taking it online. When there is a concern I explain my thoughts, give them time to think about it and help them walk through the consequences – whatever they may be.
Be on Social Media to build Relationship with your kids
When it comes to having a relationship with my kids there are two aspects: building and strengthening. By the time kids are on social media (13yo) we hopefully have established a relationship with them – it will still be growing but the foundations are there, and hopefully the foundations are solid. Social media becomes another context where we can continue to share experiences which only strengthens a relationship.
As older teens my kids have talked to me about this topic and they have one piece of advice – be yourself. They know that I don’t want to embarrass them in real life, and therefore I don’t want to embarrass them online. The things that we want to teach our kids in how to be online holds true for us as well. As I relate to my kids online I want to be true to my identity and uphold my integrity.
The one caution I put on myself is that when I engage with my kids online, I remind myself that I am not in the privacy of my own house. Social media simply creates another sphere where I need to shape my engagement appropriately. I may say something to them when we are all at home by ourselves, but would never say it at a party – so I don’t say it online.
The best things we can do for our teens on social media
So the best thing we can do for our teens on social media is to be on there with them: to be friends, to follow them, to like them, and to engage with them.
It is likely that your teen wants to be on social media as early as possible – and the legal age is 13. The ages between 13-16 are pretty intense years when our kids are learning to take ownership of who they are and how they fit into this wide world. Social media is just one of the spheres we need to help them navigate.
As with all parenting in the teen years it all depends on our relationship with them. What is your face to face relationship like with your teen? Social media will enhance whatever status you have: if you have a healthy, engaged relationship, social media can strengthen that. If you have a shakey and troubled relationship, social media will not only mirror that, but deepen the difficulties.
If you want to help your teen online then you must come at it from a relational perspective.
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