Why Parents Need to Rethink Social Media Use

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Every time I think I’ve found the best possible balance of social media use for my family, something comes up and I have to rethink it. I keep my Instagram account set to private. I only share photos to “friends” on Facebook, and I don’t share a ton of photos. I tend to obscure faces a lot of the time, or share face shots if one parent is in them.

One rule I always follow: I always check with my kids before I share a photo. Though I share photos with the goal of staying connected to friends and relatives near and far, I want my kids to know that I won’t share their moments without their permission.

And yet, I still run into problems. I shared a holiday baking picture of my husband and kids – set to “friends” – recently. The problem, of course, is that nothing is ever truly “private.” Someone I know, but not particularly well, re-shared the photo. I deleted it. I also sat down to rethink my social media use (again.)

What began as a simple tool to stay connected years ago changed over time. The lines between work and friendship blurred. My author life and personal life collided. While that one lovely picture of family happiness being shared for a moment doesn’t actually cause me any stress it is yet another social media wake up call. I don’t want my kids growing up on display, and if that means sharing fewer family moments, so be it.

Privacy matters.

Kids have a right to privacy. Just because a picture is adorable doesn’t mean it should be shared. I love to look through old family albums and see the funny bubble bath shots and terrible outfit choices (I had a thing for red and brown at one point), but I’m glad those photos are family heirlooms and not Internet archives. There’s something special about having memories preserved just for family, and kids today deserve that same level of privacy.

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Asking permission before sharing is a good habit to get into because it teaches kids how to be respectful when using social media. They learn from watching us. If we have poor boundaries when it comes to sharing and re-sharing, they will, too. If we stop and think twice before sharing and ask permission, they will learn to do the same.

Pressure to perform.

I field a lot of questions about perfectionism in young kids and how to stop kids from feeling like they need to get everything right the first time. While there are a lot of layers beneath perfectionism, one thing we do need to look at is how social media culture plays into it. Not only are kids growing up on display, but they’re also growing up filtered to perfection. They also feel the need to perform.

I have young children sit in my office and tell me about how many “likes” their latest videos earned … on their parents’ Facebook accounts. It’s one thing to share a fun moment with friends and family (Katie is riding a two-wheeler!), but we have to think twice about how much and how often we share.

We need more empathy.

The great irony of social media is that in its goal to connect people, it often disconnects people from the family members right next to them. To get a better understanding of the decline in empathy and what that’s doing to our children, I encourage you to check out “Unselfie” by Michele Borba. Make no mistake, the disconnect kids feel when their parents are lost in the wormhole that is social media is negatively impacting their empathy levels and their relationship building skills.

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I recently observed as a young girl used her iPhone to completely disengage from a room full of family and friends. She didn’t look up. She didn’t respond when people attempted to engage her. She was hiding in plain sight. Many will argue that she shouldn’t bring electronics to a party, but I think what she needs is more face time and less FaceTime. Young kids need parents to connect, engage, and empathize. Without those three things, they feel lost and disconnected from their lifelines.

Rethink your social media use in the new year. Your family will be better for it.

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Why Parents Need to Rethink Social Media Use

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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