Like most other parents, I used to think that social media was completely unsuitable for kids. There were so many dangers to be concerned about ranging from cyberbullying and social media addiction to the poor self-esteem that kids can develop thanks to comparing themselves with unrealistic social media standards. Let’s not forget the negative impact social media could have on an individual’s mental health. It just seemed safer to stop my kids from using it.
Then one day, I realized that I wasn’t being fair to my kids. They were growing up in a digital world and whether I liked it or not, technology was a huge part of their lives. Far from being a smart move, banning social media in my house was actually crippling their growth.
After all, social media did have lots of benefits. For instance, it is a great avenue for self-expression and creating awareness on important issues. Additionally, it helps kids connect with different people, make friends and get authentic support when they need it.
I realized that instead of preventing my kids from using social media, I should be teaching them how to use it in a safe and positive way. I had to instill healthy habits surrounding their social media use when they were still young and I could share the experience with them. That way, when they were older and controlling their own accounts, they’d know how to use social platforms positively.
To habituate my kids to positive social media use and make their screen time more meaningful, I taught them that it was important to:
1. Promote positive content. I wanted my kids to use social media in a positive way so I encouraged them to post happy, fun content. We started out by finding positive or humorous stories that they could share with friends and family. Eventually, they learned to do it on their own.
2. Be nice. One of the first things I taught my kids is that being mean on social media isn’t ok. Just because they couldn’t be seen and had the option of anonymity didn’t mean that they had the freedom to post embarrassing or hurtful messages. I made it clear that I expected them to treat others with respect even if they had differing opinions.
3. Express themselves. Social media provides a great platform for self-expression and I wanted my kids to take full advantage of this. I encouraged them to share the art, music or hobbies they liked as well as their thoughts and feelings on a wide range of topics.
4. Think before posting. I made sure that my kids understood that whatever was posted online had a way of staying there, even when they thought it was deleted. Before hitting “enter”, I asked them to think their posts through first. Will it hurt anyone? What was the post intended to achieve? What message did they want to send?
5. Use privacy settings correctly. Whenever my kids and I joined a new social media platform, we’d go through the privacy settings together. This way, I could ensure that they understood each setting and how to turn it on or off. I also explained that passwords were there to protect them and they should never be shared with anyone, not even their closest friends.
6. Find balance. Social media is interesting but too much of it can be dangerous. In order to instill healthy social media use habits in my kids, I had to limit and monitor the time they spent online. They had designated screen time every day and they could only go online if my wife or I were present. When they weren’t using their devices, my kids were either playing outside or pursuing their other hobbies.
Social media has its positive and negative sides. As parents, we can choose to either keep worrying about the dangers posed by social media or teach our kids to safely navigate this online world. Habituating our kids to positive social media use when they’re still young gives them ample time to grow up learning how to put these platforms to positive use.