With examinations, winding down at school and the long holidays ahead, many students are having to learn to manage their free time. This includes determining how much of it they will spend on their devices.
Perhaps it’s having teenagers of my own that causes me (and my wife) to be constantly searching for information and seeking wisdom about how to manage our children’s use of social media. It’s getting increasingly difficult to extricate those devices from our daily lives. Instead of punishing our children or monitoring them 24/7, we should focus on healthy socialisation, effective self-regulation and safety – helping them to make positive choices and exercise freedom and responsibility.
Ana Homayoun gives some excellent advice in her book Social Media Wellness and I encourage you to read this if you are looking for additional information.
How to Build Good Habits
Check your child’s phone. Children should know you can ask for their phones and expect full access. While some parents take a hands-off approach because they want to respect their children’s privacy, it’s important to make the distinction between privacy and safety. 24-hour access doesn’t mean 24-hour snooping. It means that a parent is still responsible for monitoring what a minor does online. It’s not just what they put out there, it’s also what they’re receiving. If you find something you don’t like, talk to your child about why you find it inappropriate – and then ask them what they think. Once they verbalise their thoughts, it allows them the opportunity to think things through and come up with their own set of values.
Be app-savvy. If your child is on it, you should be too. At least try it out so you can have informed conversations about it. If your children know that you understand the social media they’re using, they’re more likely to come to you to talk about issues that arise.
Help children understand their ‘why’. Inspire children to act out of internal motivation instead of fear by helping them build their own filter. Encourage your children to ask themselves ‘Why am I picking up my phone? Am I bored, am I lonely, am I sad? Am I insecure?’ Or ‘Why am I posting this? Does this make me feel up or down?’ This helps them make decisions that reflect their own values and choices and separate their online experiences from real-life ones. Asking themselves ‘why’ also slows down impulsive online communications, and encourages children to make smarter choices.
Set clear ground rules. Talk to your children about appropriate social media use before you give them a phone or allow them to download a new app. Clearly state rules and expectations, and stick with them as much as possible. This may include not putting anything online that you wouldn’t want your friends’ parents to read (because several of them will); getting permission before downloading a new app; and checking phones in to parents at bedtime.
Do a digital detox. Learn to be okay with being offline. Parents can start by modelling that behaviour: no phones at the dinner table, for example, or no checking texts while you’re talking with your child. And while most children won’t admit it to their parents, when parents put restrictions on how much and when children can use technology, it can be a relief.