Untangling Our Wired Lives: A Plan for Parenting On and Offline

If you find yourself wondering if your time on the Internet and social media is harming your child, then you’ll want to read on. According to recent research, children as young as eight are experiencing a host of problems due to social media use.

Even Randi Zuckerberg, sister of Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, wants to help us untangle our wired lives. She recently started an online community called Dot Complicated and has published a new children’s picture book Dot., about a little girl who can’t stop fidgeting with her phone. “Dot loves technology. A LOT. She’s obsessed with her devices (sound familiar?), but with a little push, she’s reminded that life’s a little bit richer when you look up from the screen,” Randi writes on her blog.

There is no doubt that technology and social media networking sites are contributing significantly to anxiety, obesity, lack of sleep, the inability to communicate spontaneously, and more. Technology has grown faster than we can keep up with – its virtual people, endless content and perpetual conversations. Every day Google answers more than one billion questions from people around the globe in 181 countries and 146 languages. The Internet numbers are staggering. See more statistics at the end of this post. Imagine how a child feels who is growing up using all this technology day in and day out?

Have you ever taken your child’s phone away as a form of punishment? You’ll notice that this created a heightened anxiety in your child, as he instantly felt disconnected from friends. His online conversations and relationships feel very real. He may even become envious of the constant stream of happy pics and fun events shared by his online friends. Life seems perfect on social media and it’s now affecting his offline life as he tries to live up to this often misrepresented reality. How can you, as a parent, help to segregate his two worlds in order to lessen his anxiety and avoid any negative effects on brain development?

First off, you’ll need to look at your own behavior.  Are you a good role model in terms of whether you are using technology when you should be having a face to face conversation, or when you should be paying attention to your child?  You also need to educate yourself on trends in technology and pop culture, and how these affect the way we communicate.

Here are a few questions to get you going:

  • When do you turn off the social media and turn on the conversation?
  • Are you spending enough time outdoors with your family?
  • Are you monitoring your child’s activities on social networks like Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr and Facebook?
  • Do you sleep with your smartphone, iPad or laptop at bedside? Does your child? Technology in the bedroom can disrupt both your sleep patterns and your child’s.
  • Can you spot a Facebook faker? These are the “friends” who create a facade of the perfect family or the never-ending party. Help your child understand that someone’s social media presence isn’t always a true representation of a person’s life.
  • Do you know your privacy rights when you share images on social media? Each network’s guidelines differ so read them before using any service. If you’re over 30, you’re most likely using Facebook or Instagram. But then there’s Snap Chat, the massively popular messaging and picture sharing service that you’ve likely never heard of and have absolutely no use for unless you’re say, under 17. If your child is using Snap Chat he is probably not aware of the new Snaphack Pro app, which lets users save “snaps” to their iPhone camera roll without notifying the sender.  Scary stuff!
  • Are you checked-in? Well you may want to consider checking out. When you check in your geographical location on an app like Foursquare or Yelp to redeem a discount or product giveaway, you could be sending the wrong message to your children. That free cup of coffee may be priceless, but the lesson learned from opening yourself up to online predators shouldn’t be so costly. Disclosing your private information with strangers can be dangerous, especially for children and teens who may leave themselves vulnerable.

It is of course best to nip your child’s use of social media from the onset of use by setting time aside for technology and then time for other activities. Separate his two worlds, making sure he understands that a virtual world has different rules, ways to communicate and isn’t always the whole truth about a person’s actual life.

Cyber Bullying

On the topic of monitoring online behavior, let your child know he is not alone when confronted with a cyber bully. According to the National Crime Prevention Council, over half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online and 1 in 3 young people have experienced cyber threats. Cyber bullying is a form of teen violence that can do lasting harm to your child in the form of anxiety, depression, and even suicide.

Talk about cyber bullying with your child, so he will be able to recognize this negative behavior and feels empowered to remove himself from the online conversation before it potentially harms him. Sadly, it’s too often that we turn on the news and hear the story of a child who has taken his life due to cyber bullying.

It’s not to say bullying never existed before the Internet, but the danger of cyber bullying is that when children engage with each other on social media they often feel disconnected, unaccountable and exempt from the real world’s guidelines on acceptable behavior. Social media’s rules are very loose, if non-existent, and it’s up to parents to create the rules and serve as models.

Have a conversation about how your child should treat peers on social media. Make it clear that the Golden Rule applies online and off.  The work isn’t over either when your child enters adulthood. Technology will surely change again, but keep in mind today’s teens and twenty something’s are also feeling the harmful affects of living in a social media world.

“Hookup” Culture

In the New York Times article, “End of Courtship?” by Alex Williams, the romantic lives of twenty-somethings are painted as pretty bleak. The writer describes a “hookup” culture where an evening of boxed mac n’ cheese, text messages, and group hangouts replace the traditional date, sweaty palms and all.  This is worrisome because the inability to engage in spontaneous conversation will make it difficult for them to make lifelong friends and partners. How will they even communicate with that potential boss who, I can guarantee, values a handshake, eye contact and small talk.  We have to help them to value real time conversation among friends and maybe pass on a few tips for talking along the way. You can read more on the topic of social media and healthy communication in my post, “Tips for Unplugging and Connecting”.

If you spend less time in your virtual world, you’ll improve your real relationships, including the one with your child.  So, on that next Friday evening, tell your child you’ll be skipping social media time with your old high school friends because you’re eager to hear about the latest and greatest happenings in his unplugged life. I guarantee you’ll get a smile and some scoop.

For my upcoming posts, I’ll outline specific strategies for working around and monitoring your child’s social media presence.

If you feel that private therapy would be beneficial, please feel free to contact me to schedule an appointment.

2013 Web Statistics

  • The Web contains at least 3.8 billion pages.
  • 2.7 billion people are expected to use the Internet by the end of the year.
  • Facebook has more than 1.1 billion members and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg has a net worth of $19 billion.

All material contained on this blog is for information purposes only. This information is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional psychological advice. Always consult a qualified professional prior to utilizing any of the information provided in this post.

Resources:

This Won’t Be Awkward: Mark Zuckerberg’s Sister Writes Children’s Book Telling Kids to Get Off Facebook

My Kids Are Obsessed With Technology, and It’s All My Fault

How Technology and Inactive Lifestyles are Changing Our Children

Technology in Kids’ Bedrooms Disrupts Sleep Patterns

Hookup Culture and End of Courtship

Social Media is Causing Anxiety, Study Finds

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