Parenting Post – Linda Marten MSW

Are your kids giving or receiving mean text messages? Are you worried about how much your child or teen is using social media? Do you feel like a “digital immigrant” who can’t catch up with the “digital natives”(our kids)?

You’re not alone. Many parents are overwhelmed by all the technology and social media that changes so rapidly. It’s no wonder some parents give up and let the kids do whatever they want with the computer, cell phone, etc.
The truth is, kids really want your guidance, even if you don’t understand all the latest social media or apps.

But what’s a parent to do?

According to Dr. Megan Moreno, from the University of Washington and author of a very helpful new, research based book entitled, “Sex, Drugs n’ Facebook: A Parent’s Toolkit”, there are three simple guidelines parents can follow that will withstand the test of time and constant technological changes.

These three simple guidelines are:
• Balance
• Boundaries
• Communication

Balance is about finding a healthy balance between time online and time offline.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, young children should be limited to no more than 2 hours a day using any type of technology.
It’s not so clear how this applies to teens. It depends on their maturity, health, and how technology is impacting their life. Parents and teens need to discuss what’s the right balance. And what’s the right balance this year, may be different next year as your teenager grows and matures. So be firm and flexible.

Time offline, disconnected from technology, needs to be during meals, during classes at school, and at bedtime.
Remember, having a cell phone and a computer is a privilege, not a right.
You are paying for these privileges and need to set limits on how these privileges are being used by your children. You wouldn’t give your kids the car keys without supervision and training. The same applies to kids using technology.

Boundaries involve teaching kids how to communicate appropriately and safely on the Internet and texting.
• Use stories from the news or TV shows as a way to start discussion about the risks and consequences of inappropriate use of the Internet and texting.

• Teach kids to treat others, as they would like to be treated. How we talk to others online or through text messages should be the same as if we were talking to them face-to-face.

• Teach kids to STOP. THINK. CLICK. Once something is posted online or sent as a text message, it’s almost impossible to get it back. Information and photos shared on the Internet can be seen far and wide. Would they want their teacher, parents, or police to see what they are about to post?
Teach kids to stop and think before they click “send”.

• Teach your child to question what they see on the Internet. Just because something is on the Internet or TV, does not mean it is true or correct information and people may not be who they appear to be.

• If something doesn’t feel right, it’s not. Encourage kids to come and tell you or a trusted adult if they’re not sure about something or someone online.

Lastly, and most important, is communication between parent and child/teen. Keep the lines of communication open so kids can ask you anything, tell you anything. Parent-child communication is still the best way to protect your kids.
However, out of our fear and lack of knowledge about social media, we parents can over-react and get judgmental and critical.
Has someone ever criticized or judged you? What does it do to communication?
Do you want to continue talking to them? Probably not. That’s how kids feel too.
Criticism shuts down communication.

Kids can trigger our emotions. Have the strength to walk away, take a break, breath, go for a walk or call a friend and come back calm before you react.
Parents need to STOP. THINK. RESPOND (unless it’s an emergency, of course).
I found with my teenagers it helped to talk less, and listen more.
It was amazing how much they would open up and talk when I stopped talking so much and listened more. Try it next time you’re driving them somewhere.

Supervision is very important. The younger the child, the more supervision.
• Young children need close parental supervision at all times.
• Tweens (ages 8 to 12) are starting to explore the larger world on their own, but that doesn’t mean the parent shouldn’t be with them or in the same room at least. Keep the computer in a common area where it’s easy to supervise and they can ask you questions. You can also put parental controls on your computer. Through your cell phone provider you can go online and choose what times of day your child cannot use their cell phone. (Most charge a small monthly fee for this service.)
• With teenagers, it’s not realistic to try to always monitor everything they are doing. However, let them know the family can walk in and out of the room at any time and ask questions about what they’re doing online.

Be willing to keep learning. Before you react out of fear of the unknown, go online yourself and experience Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. You can Google any new social media and find out more about it. Connecting with friends is very important for a teenager’s social development and that’s why social media has become so popular with teens and young adults. (However, Facebook has become very popular with adults too, especially the “Baby Boomer” generation.)
Facebook is now the most popular social networking site. It currently has over 900 million users worldwide and 130 million in the United States.

In this fast moving, technological time, remember you are still the most important person in your child’s life and your example is still the most powerful influence. Remember: Balance, Boundaries, and Communication and you will have given your child the most important “technological tools”.

For a workshop at your school, or a private session contact me at:
[email protected]

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