Facebook and Myspace came out about the time I was in high school. I remember talking about it with my friends ands setting up our accounts together. It was awesome because it was a place away from our parents eyes. We could talk to one another, look up whatever information we wanted and our parents were none the wiser.
Fast forward this thought process as a parent now and it terrifies me. As I have begun to use social media more seriously in the realms of business it terrifies me even more. When I understand the age restrictions that have been put on the various platforms (for example Facebook says you have to be 13 years old. If you are a parent and set up the account for them, you are now responsible for whatever your kids does through this app and online) and how quickly pictures or content can be deleted (we now know taking something off of any device is not permanent). It is scary business when I think about our kids cruising along, alone on social media.
In our house we tackle social media similarly to how we handle our kids going to a friends house, the park or anywhere else. We want to know where our kids are going, who they are going with, when they will be back and which route they are taking. If they are going to a friends house I want to know who the parents are, what their household rules are and I want to make sure my kids will come back in one piece emotionally, mentally and physically.
Our kids are still young and we do not yet let them go to the park on their own. Even Madeline has to go with an adult or a teenager we trust. This rule frustrates Maddie, but I told her, “it’s not you I don’t trust, it’s the rest of the world”. I trust her to go to the park and come home when it’s time. It’s everyone else in the world I don’t trust. With I-90 and I-35 only a few miles away, it terrifies me to think of what could happen to her.
Social media is very similar to this mindset in our house. Naomi and Titus are only allowed to use apps we have bought. The reason being is that I don’t want weird or gross ads to pop up for them to see. They are not able to “accidentally” purchase an app or go to another game I wouldn’t want them to be exposed to yet. Maddie being older and having shown us maturity and responsibility has earned limited wifi access, but an adult has to be in the room while she’s using it. We also have to know which websites she is going to and what she is doing.
As a parent I want to know who my kids are hanging out with and what they are doing offline and online. I need to know what games, apps and places my kids are hanging out on. I need to know who they are talking to and what they are talking about. Stranger danger is as real online as it is in person. If I don’t know what an app does that they are using, I need to go research it, understand it and have them show me how they are using it.
We also take into consideration how kids behave offline and then we take that same line of thinking in terms of behavior online. The same kid drama, meanness and craziness offline, happens online. I know which of my kids would tell me if they were getting bullied and which ones would not. Then you combine this with the reality of offline and online adult predators to the mix and it makes me want to throw up.
As our kids get older we are training them to say something if they see something. Just as if they were at the park and noticed something weird or saw someone being bullied, we have trained them to tell an adult. We want our kids to be advocates and to not be afraid to stand up for someone else. In the same way I want to make sure my kids are being online who they are in person.
I hate that I feel like I have to be so vigilant and stand guard at our kids door, but as their parent it’s my job. We walk our kids through life’s emotions, situations, ups and downs. Social media will be the same way. We will keep an open door policy like we do with everything else.
The world we live in online and offline doesn’t have to be a dark and dangerous place, but we do need to respect that it can be and stuff happens. For us it comes down to knowing what our kids are individually ready to handle and keeping conversations open with them.
Along the lines of being open with the kids they know at any time we can check their devices. We have full rights as their parents to say, “hand me your tablet/game device”. We check what they have been playing, how long they have been playing and we talk to them about what we are seeing.
Social media has become one more place Mark and I need to stay vigilant and monitor. It is one more place we need to continue learning the lingo so we can talk and walk the lingo. Online and offline it boils down to us continuing to be the parents our kids need us to be.