Many of you may or may not be familiar with a series I run asking parents with smalls to write about their thoughts on their children becoming teens. Overridingly, the biggest fear raised time and time again is the impact of social media on children. I have three teens - this fear is real. Heightened also by my own love of social media, I'm only too aware that I need to practise what I preach. That can be hard! Balance is key and so, with that in mind, last weekend myself, alongside Jayne and Sarah from BE Integrative Therapy, held our first event at Forge & Co in Shoreditch, London discussing all things social media and our children.
Sarah and Jayne are counsellors. Their expertise is wide but one of their focuses is on children. Sadly, they are only too aware of the negative impact social media can have on this age group. For me, they were the perfect experts to have lead the session. Yes, social media can have a huge negative impact, but, as Sarah and Jayne, recognise, the benefits are huge too.
Social media is a vast topic area with lots of sub-areas such as cyber-bullying, unrealistic image portrayal and addiction. It would be almost impossible to tackle all of these aspects in the short time available so the discussion focused mainly on social media in general and how to keep our children safe through our parenting.
For many who were unable to make the event, I promised a summary. Here below are the main points from the discussion:
1. Social media is not going to go away so the more we stay abreast of the issues and the more informed we are the better. We can't as parents, and shouldn't, hide away from the issues.
2. There is no need to introduce your children to social media from a young age unless you want to. It is your choice. They will, of course, learn about it through friends, family and other social settings but you can set the limits and the safety elements, as you feel appropriate.
3. Communication is key. Keep those lines of communication open through childhood and onward into the teen years. Make it easy for your children to talk to you. Always make the time. Let them be able to come to you if they are concerned. If from a young age they know that they can talk to you without you screaming and shouting they will feel more confident in discussing their concerns and worries.
4. Be careful of your own reactions to a situation they may talk to you about related to social media. If you need to digest what they have told you, let them know that you will come back to them on the subject. Better that, than an explosive immediate reaction. The fact that they have come to you is a huge positive to be praised.
5. It is important to remember, despite the hype of negativity around social media, that the majority of children will be OK. You can't micromanage every situation and it is important that they learn from their mistakes too. We aren't talking about the serious issues here but the small mistakes that are a good eye opener. By learning from their mistakes, this will help them grow into well-rounded, capable, problem-solving adults.
6. From a young age, introduce family time-out situations from screen time. So no phones at dinner. Make this a normality in your household so that as they get older they appreciate the importance of family time and conversation. We are all only too aware of those families in restaurants that are all sat on their phones instead of talking to each other. Let's keep the conversation flowing. This will help feed into point 3 where communication is key.
7. Relay your own experiences to your children. If they come to you for advice about a social media issue, impart your advice in a positive way and not a dictating way. So less "stop doing that" and more "have you tried to do this?"
8. Look for the signs also that your child seems out of character. It may be they've witnessed something on their phone that has upset them. Keep chatting. Find the best moments for your child when you feel they may open up, in the car, just before bedtime. Don't ignore. However small it may appear to you it could be a huge issue for them.
Sarah and Jayne make valid points. By taking the time to keep communication open, most issues shouldn't blow out of proportion or escalate to total disaster. Interestingly, before the session, all of our phones were taken away and we were asked how we felt. After the initial feeling of having lost a limb, it was hugely liberating. I urge you to put that phone down for a few hours. Seriously!
I can't thank Sarah and Jayne enough for agreeing to come along and chat at my first event. Huge thanks, also, to all of those who came along. We were overwhelmed by the positive response so have decided to hold another event on the 16th September looking at positive parenting and the picking of battles! Details of tickets for this event can be found here. Would love you to come along and join the chat. Just saying!
Helen writes a blog about parenting three teens at www.justsayingmum.com