Beware of making social media a forbidden fruit…

If you had a magic wand, would you ban your teen from social media for as long as possible? If you say ‘yes’, you are not alone! The effects of screen time and the risks associated with social media, whether bullying, being bullied or meeting strangers, are serious enough for some parents to forbid it outright.

I understand that parents know their teens best and want the best for their teens, but beware of making social media a forbidden fruit.

Here’s why it’s a bad idea to ban it – and what to do instead:

Kids will always be one step ahead

I speak with thousands of students across the country about social media, and they describe how ahead of the game they are, compared with their parents:

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“My mom gave me permission to use Instagram, but she has no idea about my finsta.” (A ‘finsta’ is a second Instagram account, hidden from their parents, which teens use to share more ‘honest’ or personal photos and captions.)

“My parents regularly search my phone, but they don’t know about my decoy app.” (Kids download ‘decoy apps’ like ‘Calculator%’ and ‘Audio Manager’, neither of which calculates or controls volume. After entering a code, kids can hide their photos and videos, make secret calls and message people – all within the app.)

“I created an Instagram account, and my mom has no idea. Otherwise, she would freak out.” (While most platforms require users to be at least 13 years old to create an account, anyone who wants to open an account needs only two things: Internet access and an email address.)

The lesson? Kids will never stop migrating to new apps that are foreign to parents. Banning social media just isn’t realistic.

There’s a positive side to social media

Headlines often focus on the pitfalls of social media, so benefits such as building relationships with friends and future employers, supporting causes, and joining movements are easy to overlook. Not only can students use social media to fuel their success, but they will be increasingly expected to do so.

By teaching kids to use social media in a healthy way, parents can help them take charge of their online reputation and follow positive role models who can push them toward their goals.

READ MORE: The screen-time argument: how to find a balance in your children’s lives

Shared standards can strengthen a family

Unlike rules which restrict negative behaviours, standards encourage positive behaviours and open, trusting relationships. Living up to high standards takes practice, and when a group of people – a family – agrees to live by the same standards, they keep each other accountable.

Take screen time: Adults often complain that teens look at their devices too much. In reality, according to a 2017 study by Common Sense Media, adults spend 26 minutes longer each day “with screen media” than children aged eight to 18 (and more than 80% of it is “devoted to personal screen media”). Kids can’t be what they can’t see.

Defining your family’s social standards is the first step toward using social media positively. (Kids will notice if you don’t follow the same practices they’ve agreed to.) Help one another by agreeing on and signing a family social standards agreement. That’s right, mom and dad, you sign, too.

  • What will you and your family prioritise before turning on Netflix?
  • When will everyone put their screens away? After 8 p.m.? When having a conversation? When driving (that means you, parents)?
  • How often will you update your passwords?
  • What are your standards for posting? Will you agree to not post embarrassing or inappropriate photos/videos of each other or other people?

How to help

These days, even primary school kids can join apps like YouTube Kids or Facebook Kids Messenger. Apps are becoming a part of their childhood, and children of different ages need different amounts – and types – of guidance. But all kids benefit far more from a two-way conversation because it promotes an atmosphere of openness and trust.

When you huddle, discuss the ‘dos’ of social media, not just the ‘don’ts’. Replace “don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see” with “post what represents your character and values.”

Let’s empower our kids to fuel their potential by using social media. Yes, banning social media altogether would be easier – for you. Your child, however, would miss out.

Article by Laura Tierney, first published on Washington Post.

Author: ANA Newswire