Navigating Tech and Social Media With Children

Navigating Tech and Social Media With Children

Posted by Mrs. Wilson, Head of School –

During a time when trends are fleeting, I think we can all agree that technology and social media are here to stay.  The conveniences and connections are indisputable; we can manage nearly everything using mobile apps and we are able to keep up with friends and family scattered around the world through Facebook and Instagram.  Texting is a great way to keep tabs and to update plans; Snapchat has some pretty great filters.  Since technology and social media are both permanent fixtures in our lives and in the lives of our children, I think it’s pretty vital that we stay both current and vigilant as parents and educators.

I think back to my family’s first computer growing up.  It literally sat, parked like a Buick in our living room, the monitor’s back extending a good two feet behind the screen.  Its bulky presence offered two basic functions: word processing and fuzzy, antiquated games.  Fast-forward to today – we keep computers in our pockets in the form of cell phones and iPods that offer much, much more than what those Commodore 64s did back in the eighties.  While I know many families continue to keep the family computer in a central, visible spot to better monitor what their children are doing, those cell phones are often not as easily monitored.  Generous data plans coupled with the way children view their phones as *their* property create a lack of parental oversight that can and will create challenges currently or down the road.

The computers from our childhood would take about ten minutes to load.  Now, a quick click of the home button brings everything to life – portability and the world instantly at our fingertips means quick and easy access.  It also means constant access.  We used to power down our computers, which in turn would power down our brains and availability.  The convenience of phones with Google and Safari (and an abundance of apps) means that we are constantly plugged in, depriving ourselves of the electronic disconnection that we need. As adults, we have eased into this.  Our children are growing up like this.  Children are often charging their devices in their bedrooms and their brains have adapted in such a way that when they hear or feel a slight buzz notification or notice the screen of their device glow to life, their minds activate, depriving them of the sleep, rest, and disconnect they need to grow.

Now, don’t misunderstand. I am not advocating that we yank the devices from our children’s hands.  What I am advocating for is responsible oversight.  The concept that the kids’ phones are their property is mind boggling to me and I know this is the perception of children and not parents.  However, I have had more than one conversation with parents and have heard them say that “kids need their privacy.”  True…but not when it comes to technological oversight.  Our children are learning how to use technology responsibly and they will not know how to do so without our guidance.  We all know that we should have all passwords and usernames.  But have you viewed the apps recently on your children’s devices?  I bet the number of apps has grown significantly, possibly without your knowledge.  Do you have the passwords for the newly downloaded apps?  Are you scrolling through their social media to see what they’re posting and what their friends are posting? Passcodes change very easily – stay current.

I have viewed profiles and accounts of students at this school.  Some are open and not private.  Please talk to your children about their settings and make sure their accounts are all private.  Go through their followers and “friends” on social media.  Don’t recognize a name or face?  Find out who it is.  Don’t like the looks of fan pages who post racy content?  Unfollow it for your child – and then talk about it.

As our children grow older, the influence of peers and social media grows at an alarming rate.  Your physical oversight diminishes, and to keep up, your technological oversight must increase.  They don’t stay little forever, and you will find yourself longing for the days of temper tantrums (wait, those still happen when they’re older, just not in grocery stores) and nap schedules.  You will soon find yourselves hearing names you’ve never heard before, sprinkled into conversation and you will wonder, who is this person?  Social media will tell you more than what your child will tell you.  Your physical presence is a given, though it wanes as your children will grow.  Your technological presence must be a constant and increase as your children grow.

“But I trust my kids.”  Great!  Me too!  One of my favorite quotes as both a mother and principal is from President Reagan: “Trust, but verify.”  You can simultaneously trust your children and check up on them – I promise.  I think of the grade portal we offer parents here at school.  I know many of you check that weekly (maybe daily or hourly – just kidding!) as a verification of the work your children are doing.  If you notice that a few assignments are missing, you step in and guide your children to get that work handed in.  If you notice that your child’s social media interactions with peers are a little, um, salty (I love this word – it fits so many scenarios), you step in and guide.  Please.

I know it almost feels better not to know.  Ignorance is bliss – especially when that ignorance would otherwise require tough conversations and consequences.  Do not fall victim to this mentality.  Parenting is not for the faint of heart and your technological engagement now will save your child from a host of issues later on.  This is the teachable moment.  And it will ebb and flow.  Keep up with it.  It’s so much easier to address the issue when it’s fresh and small than when it’s continuous and pervasive.

Lastly (well, for this blog), please acknowledge when your child stumbles.  If a parent or teacher comes to you to engage about something that has happened, know that the individual who approaches you is trying to solve a problem and is nervous and brave.  Please look at it as an opportunity to work collaboratively and it is not intended to become a blame game or finger-pointing session.  On the flip side of that coin, please speak up when you notice something that just doesn’t sit well with you. We are all in this together and we need the care and support of one another to make it through.  Or, at least to make it to the next parenting challenge!