I have been reading a lot about social media of late, in thinking about how best to support our kids (and you all!) as we navigate this new territory in teaching and parenting. First, I should say, I am not at all opposed to social media. I enjoy using it myself, and I think it's an interesting platform with loads of potential. It's a fun way to connect with people you like but who are not in your immediate circle; it can be a way to interact with people you admire; it can provoke important conversations and discourse; it can be a powerful platform for sharing stories and experiences; and it can be just plain fun.
That said, I do worry that its ubiquitousness is making us less thoughtful about when and how our children should have access to it. Our children are really comfortable with technology. However, comfort doesn't equal skill, and comfort without skill is a dangerous combination!
Platforms Not Designed for Children
At the end of the day, these platforms weren't designed for children, and the skills required to fluently navigate these worlds are ones that most kids simply don't possess: self-restraint, savviness about marketing techniques, sophisticated social skills, an understanding of audience, media literacy skills, and time management skills. According to a great article in Psychology Today (Why Social Media is Not Smart for Middle School Kids), here are a few things to think about before you turn over a smartphone to your eager child.
- Delay, Delay, Delay! If at all possible, I think you wait until the end of middle school to give your child access to social media. The longer you delay, the more time your child will have to grow, develop their "IRL" social skills, and mature so they can better navigate the online worlds. This will also give your child a chance to build strong authentic friendships and know what those should look and feel like. It will also help save YOU a lot of time from having to clean up/manage the "digital drama" that is the inevitable result of kiddos who are in over their social-heads. And, if you work as a team with the parents of their friends, they won't be able to use the "but I am the ONLY ONE" argument.
- Follow Them (and make sure they are not using a "fake-just-for-the-parents account" in addition to their real one). If you decide your child is ready to be on social media, you need to be very present in their digital lives, helping them make decisions, take issues offline, and make appropriate choices about when/what to post. There's nothing private about online postings, so your child should know it will definitely not be private to you!
- Family Accounts: One way to ease into social media in a more supervised way is by having family accounts. This allows the opportunity for you to model really positive online interactions and open up dialogue about how/what you decide to post, all within the confines of a smaller, safer network of friends and family.
- Limit Time on Devices: We all know how much time we can manage to suck away on social media; it is a rabbit hole with no end :). So, as with all screen time, keep a close eye on the clock. Screen addiction is a real thing, and the average teen apparently spends about nine hours a day on social media (although the # is surprisingly just as high for us old folks!). Some suggest that kids check one time a day a few times a week…nothing more.
- Keep Their Real Social Lives Full. Children love collecting things, and on social media, the danger is that they simply collect friends (strangers, acquaintances, etc.) and likes for social status. So instead, have them collect real moments with real people in their real lives.
- Put Away the Devices: And last but not least, model a healthy relationship with technology and social media yourself. You'll be your child's best mentor for how to live a full and balanced life in a world of fast-paced-distractions.
As the article says, "Like trying to make clothes fit that are way too big, kids will use social media inappropriately until they are older and it fits them better," so let's try to put those devices away for as long as possible and enjoy childhood!
Head of Lower School