Kids and Social Media: Striking the Right Balance
When my 9 year-old son is not begging me for a cell phone, he’s harassing me for Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts.
I’ve made it clear to him that a phone is not on the horizon anytime soon. My stock response? “You don’t need one.” He doesn’t make phone calls, has no need to text anybody, and the only time that he’s not with me is when he’s at school or on a supervised playdate.
I was having a harder time getting my arms around why he wants social media accounts. Until I drove two of his friends to school one morning – 10 and 8 year-old siblings. Armed with a shared iPhone, my son sat wide-eyed while his friends posted updates to Facebook, viewed photos of soccer players on Instagram, and somehow found my Twitter handle and began reading my updates out loud.
I believed – perhaps naively – that parents don’t allow their kids to have Facebook accounts if they’re under the age of thirteen. I learned that morning that this is not always the case.
I respect every parent’s right to make choices that feel right for their own family. Thirteen is an arbitrary stake in the ground for being involved in social media. Some kids might have the maturity at 11; others might not be ready until they’re 15.
But this whole experience got me thinking about his perspective. He’s the product of a digital society. As parents, smartphones, iPads, and saying “Mommy’s on Facebook” are new and novel. For our kids, it’s simply life as they’ve always known it.
So I shouldn’t be shocked when he asks to have his own Facebook account or smartphone. While there may be a bit of keeping up with the Joneses going on, I think there’s something bigger at play. It’s not about status. It’s about a desire to live life the way he sees so many people around him living it. He wants to be a participant in all the things he knows to be normal.
Does that mean I’m rushing out to give him a smartphone or a Facebook account? No way. But now that I understand what’s behind his desire, I’ve changed how I explain to him why he can’t have those things just yet.
I’d been saying, “You don’t need that stuff.” In his mind, I might as well be saying he doesn’t need a pair of shoes. He believes that technology and shoes are both things we’re entitled to. It’s time to start explaining that the use of technology has its fun and its dangers, its benefits and responsibilities. As a result, a smartphone or a social media account is a privilege, and not a right – just like driving a car or having an extended curfew.
We’re in fairly uncharted territory with social media and kids, and it’s hard to strike the right balance. How do you plan to navigate when and how your kids use technology and social media?
Photo via Flickr: tinkerbrad