February 11, 2013
Eileen Wacker: Social Media and Connecting with Your Child
Eileen Wacker is the award-winning author of the Fujimini Adventure Series. As a recognized thought leader and CEO of ONCEKids she has contributed to Fox News,Huffington Post and Resident NY Magazine. Continuing her enthusiasm for education she has led reading programs throughout the world. Eileen has written the following on Social Media and Connecting with Your Child:
Social Networking is the most important communication channel among our teens and tweens. If you are not connected to their world, it is hard to effectively parent them. Social media trends are accelerating and exploding and their usage is directly correlated to how our tweens and teens feel about themselves and act towards others.
Let’s face it, we are raising ‘the ithumb generation’ and they are creating norms faster than I can type a text. I have four children aged 14, 14, 10 and 9 years-old and they all have electronic devices. Each has a strong desire to join and download various social media apps and services. My husband and I constantly wrestle with how we can be good parents in the face of this onslaught. We are done denying if we disallow a phone or facebook (fb) account, we are in touch with what is going on, or, we are effectively protecting our children. I instead have added ‘social media trend spotter’ to my mom job description.
As a mom, I already have a hard time keeping up with my children and their busy schedules. Trying to raise great kids is exhausting. I am stressed and tired and the idea of one more giant issue to address is daunting. But becoming social media savvy has actually simplified my life. If I can guide and influence my children’s way of using social media, I can directly impact three things related to them:safety, common sense and good manners associated with their use. Here are some things I’ve discovered.
Unfortunately, an electronic device is the signature of your child. It is not as simple as – if he/she has the iphone 5, he/she is spoiled and/or indulged. It is much more complicated. Our 9 year-old got an iphone 4s for Christmas. We used to silently look down upon a parent who gave their 9 year-old child a phone. Now, I work and my kids are constantly in motion and I need them to have phones. So my area of concern is not when any more, it is how my kids are using the electronic devices. And social networking is the big kahuna of how.
One of my children is on facebook (fb) and all four are on Instagram. Several are on snapchat and other add-ons to Instagram. They are not on twitter and have no desire to be. I have a rule that they must accept me as a follower and I need to know their usernames and passwords. Seems like common sense but I have to go further. There is a trend in every playground. The kids are collecting ‘likes’ and ‘followers’ and ‘friends’. Seems innocent but we need to watch. There are apps to see who ‘unfollows’ or ‘unfriends’ and this is creating drama on the playground. The kids are using these to bully others or make a child feel isolated or as if he/she doesn’t have enough friends. Kids are gaining status now by the number of ‘friends’, ‘followers’, and ‘likes’ they have. It is a form of competition and a new barometer of being popular.
Here are a few comments I gathered from my kids and their friends:
“She keeps copying every photo I take and posting it; I’m not going to like or share anything she does”
“he unfollowed me and asked all his friends to”
“A bunch of kids unliked a girl’s photos and fb posts, because a popular boy likes her and one of the group likes him”
“Today, we were sitting in a group and Elena sent a text to me and Miley talking about Sara. I didn’t laugh but Miley did and I thought Sara was going to cry.”
Kids are using the accounts to include and exclude people. They are including the wrong people to increase their ‘friends’ and ‘likes’. They are excluding peers as a power play not understanding the ramifications on the target. They also post pictures that can make them targets. They post a photo of their front door, a picture where the wearer has a school t-shirt on, or a bathing suit shot. They are still naïve and do not understand how to judge appropriateness. They do not understand that they might be viewed by a sexual predator.
Here are some recent conversations we had with our kids:
I said to my 14 year-old daughter, “You can’t block me from seeing anything. In return, I won’t post on your wall.” She agreed.
My husband said to our 14 year-old son, “You turned your phone tracker off today. He replied, “I had my phone turned off for school and forgot to turn it back on.” My husband said, “No you have to specifically disable it.” My son confessed, “Okay at school, the other kids said parents that do this are cyber stalkers.” We took his phone for a day as punishment.
Our 9 year-old with a phone posted a quote from an inspiration site on Instagram that read, “If you love someone set them free, if he comes back he’s yours, if not, call someone and get drunk.” We made her take down the post immediately and then had a family meeting about appropriate content. She got off with a warning.
Our 10 year-old ‘unfollowed’ the 9 year-old as retribution in an argument. She came in crying, saying, “I only have 9 followers and he’s ‘unfollowing’ me to make me look like a loser.” We discussed how this is a form of bullying or what we call ‘social media shunning’.
My son asked if he could get the app that lets him know who ‘unfollowed’ him. We said no. But it does not change the fact, he actually cares about who ‘unfollowed’ him.
My son said, “There’s a 9 year-old at my school and she has 435 followers on Instagram and she makes her photos public.” I cringe, as this means anyone can access and comment on her photos. I say, “Does her mom know?” He says, “I don’t know.” I am tempted to call the mom as I’m sure she has no idea. “My 14 year-old says, “Well an 8th grader I know has 10,000 followers.”They explain how you get school yard cred for lots of followers. We explain the risks associated with buying into this. They look at us like we don’t get it, so instead we set limits on numbers.
For fb, we ask our children: How many friends do you have? How many close friends do you have? We go through them and set a limit. We set up Facebook and make our child list us as a close friend. It’s exhausting but necessary. Because if you are not participating, you can’t have these important conversations with your child.
Other social media trendspotter news–
Teens and tweens consider Linkedin and pinterest as older people social networking, and say myspace is old and forgotten. Twitter is not interesting for the teens and tweens in general. Most use blogspot in school as many teachers are using to host interesting discussions with their classes.
Google+ is getting more popular with teens and tweens. It is basically a safer facebook. It is an app downloaded free if the user has gmail.
Snapchat is a brand new, free app that allows users to create and send a short video. The video deletes after the user views it. Keek is another video posting app.
Texting is still intensely popular but increasingly used to send information; they also love the apps, where you can add a comment
Skype and facetime use is on the rise
Add-ons are king:
Fotorus – adds special effects to the photos
Pixlromatic – adds special effects (more than Instagram and works with photos or instagram)
Kik- instant messaging with Instagram
If your kids are on any of these, get on.
My 10 year-old gave me a great compliment today. He said, “Why would you join snapchat? No other moms are on it so you won’t have any friends to chat with.” I looked at him and said, “Well I have you and your sister for now. And that’s awesome.” I love being connected to my children. When one of them likes a photo I post or a fb entry I make, I feel involved. I love the discussions it creates and we actually have more things to talk about face to face.
Many of their most important conversations are happening via social networking and the trend will only get bigger. You will know so much more about their daily life if you get connected. Stay quietly in the background and it will bring back the days when they were little and talking in the backseat, forgetting you were driving. I loved those adorable chats and hearing the kids interact. Now we are just doing it in a modern way – via an electronic device.