As your child’s social world begins to expand, technology will become a cornerstone for supporting their growing social needs. Developmentally, kids tend to be more focussed on quantity over quality of friendships, which makes social media such a draw, where it’s all about the number of ‘likes’ their posts have or how many ‘followers they can gain.
To an outsider or adult, much of the socializing that is happening at this point seems superficial. In fact, when cyberbullying events happen, they may seem quite benign, and it might be tempting to encourage your child (or another child if your child is the perpetrator) to ‘just get over it’. We now know, however, that the impact of seemingly joking or teasing behaviour can be perceived in much more negative ways by the recipient. It is very important for you to not downplay your child’s experience.
Research is showing that kids are less likely to go to an adult for help about cyberbullying because they think the adult won’t get it, or worse, will take their device away (essentially punishing them for being cyberbullied). Conversely, if your child is engaging in cyberbullying behaviour, it’s very important to help them develop empathy for the person at the end of their messages, and to help them understand what a healthy relationship looks like online. A useful way to remind them about proper etiquette online is to remind them that “if you don’t speak or act like this in person, you shouldn’t do it online either”. Communication with your child is key in developing a mutual understanding about what is and is not acceptable online.
Although developmentally normal, it certainly isn’t healthy for a child to spend all of their time online. Not only does a sedentary lifestyle increase the risk for obesity, it displaces other aspects of a child’s life that are important for healthy development. Your job as a parent is to negotiate a balanced approach, and help enforce and model it.
It is really important not to pathologize your child. Make sure your child understands that there is nothing wrong with them – that everyone is susceptible to the lure of technology. It’s designed by corporations to be like that! You can also assure them that most of their friends are having similar battles with their parents. It might also be useful to find common ground with them, and remind them that back in the day, your parents nagged you about being on the phone too much.
Finally, if you have a family media plan in place, have set check in times where the plan is revisited to ensure that it continues to be relevant and useful. It will also provide you a designated time to have conversations about being online.
Whether you let your child have an app is a decision that should be made between you and your child. Some apps have age restrictions, which many parents use as a guide (although many do not). Most importantly, before letting your child have an app, it is a good idea to educate yourself about it. A quick Google search will let you know if the app in question has any controversy surrounding it. For example, when Snapchat came out, it’s big sell was that the messages sent only lasted for a few seconds and then disappeared. However, kids quickly figured out work arounds to save the content – either by taking a screen shot, or by figuring out a way to undelete it. I think most kids are now aware of this, but initially, there were many instances of kids sending images or text to somebody that was later used against them. Many parents are aware of this history with Snapchat and so don’t let their child have it However, many other apps (e.g., Instagram) now also have a ‘disappearing’ function, which is why it’s so important to educate yourself. Below are some recommendations for figuring what apps you are comfortable with your child having:
In addition, young teens have access to an array of social media sites with pictures, videos and stories, so this is also the start of how their online image will form. Creating profiles on social network sites such as Instagram and Snapchat is a way in which tweens can express their personality through digital media. It’s important that they understand the impact of interacting with others and representing themselves in a socially responsible way.
To ensure this happens, you can have ongoing conversations with your child about digital citizenship. Media Smarts has lots of great tools and resources on media literacy and digital citizenship that are targeted for both parents and youth. General conversations about healthy relationships, and modeling empathy and compassion in offline settings can also support this.