We sat around the conference room table, some dialed into the conference line, spending our lunch hour listening to a guest speaker. She was there to talk about a subject that continues to frighten many: social media and our children. “I wish I could put my kids in a bubble with a slot for library books and food,” said one of my co-workers jokingly, with a tinge of truth.
In an overly connected world filled with mobile devices, children, drugs, hormones, pedophiles, #fomo, #yolo, cyberbulling, and social media … how do we—as moms, parents, guardians—protect the minds, innocence, and lives of our children? That is what we were there to learn about.
Protecting Our Kids Online
According to its terms, Facebook requires everyone to be at least 13 years old before they can create an account (in some areas, this age limit may be even higher). So, if your ten-year-old is pitching a fit that she wants a Facebook account, you can simply tell her that its against the law and that she’ll have to wait.
Ten also seemed to be the magic age by which many of the moms agreed to give their children a cell phone, with the intended “emergencies only” and the “call me when you get there” purposes. While certainly not the cool-mom route, I love how a few moms gave their tweens flip phones and not an app downloading device. “My son has a flip phone for carrying to and from school, and an iPod touch for games and texting while at home. All of his text messages are forwarded to my cell phone and e-mail,” shared one savvy mom. “I also receive an e-mail anytime something is downloaded.”
Knowing what is downloaded seems like a very logical and legit parenting move, but what if we can start the conversation well before the app is downloaded? How do you approach your children about the apps they want to have? Do you know the latest apps that all the kids are raving about?
Apps to Be Wary Of
Yik Yak. “Just delete it from their phones now,” our presenter didn’t hesitate when she advised this. So, what is this terrible app? It’s like stranger danger times a million. Basically, the app uses geo-tagging to identify 500 other Yikyakkers who are closest to you so that you can meet up. WTH? Who thinks of this stuff? I don’t want random strangers knowing exactly where I am, let alone my kids. While you’re at it, turn off location tagging on your children’s phones, too.
Kik. This app will let you text with miscellaneous and anonymous people from all over the world. It will also download your contacts, and allows group messaging. Again with the stranger danger!
Quick Tips to Manage Everyday Phone Use
Idle time can often be the culprit of overusing social media, and too much time spent gaming or inside an app. While I’m sure we’d all love to keep our kids busy 100% of their non-sleeping hours, that probably a bit unrealistic. So, how can you best manage their time spent on mobile devices? Set guidelines.
- No electronics in the bedroom. Put a basket in the kitchen and have everyone put their phones in it before bedtime, and therefore no waking up at 2 a.m. to answer texts. (As someone who has never liked having a TV in her bedroom, I love this idea!)
- Know what is on their phone. If your child is glued to their phone, stroll on over and see what he or she is staring at, and frantically texting about. It’s our right as a parent to know what is going on. And, consider conducting random checks of their phones to see what’s going inside that handheld device.
Partnering with Other Adults
“What are your rules for your nannies and babysitters?” That was a great question posed by a mom with little ones, and honestly, I had never had that conversation with my nanny. Two text messages later and we were on the same page: No more posting pictures of my kids to Facebook or Instagram.
What about other adults that interact with your kids? Other parents? Coaches? Do you ask other parents if it’s OK to post photos of their kids? If you saw something inappropriate on someone else’s child’s phone, what would you do? Having conversations with other parents, as well as asking permission before you post something online are two steps toward greater respect of our kids, one another, and our private lives. As the manager of my school’s PTA Facebook page, our #1 rule is no photos of the kids. Period.
Additional Resources for Parents
- Have you thought about creating a family media plan? Here is a site that will help you write a contract between you, and your tweens and teens. Once they read, acknowledge, and sign it, expectations will be set and breaking the contract will have consequences.
- How can your school support concerned families? Consider working with your school to host an assembly that discusses cyberbulling and social media. “Our school hosted a local police officer,” advised a mom of teens. “The officer told them that sharing inappropriate photos is child pornography, and that’s illegal.”
When all else fails, scare them.
Special thanks to my company for creating a safe place for employees to talk openly about issues that affect our families, and to Melissa Evans of TweetMyJobs for leading such an meaningful discussion on this important topic. I know that B4J is typically a place for sharing work-related content, but many of us are more than just employees and consultants. We’re parents with real off-line lives and real concerns, too.