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I Didn’t Know We Were There Yet!
Pam Weinberger, Guelph ON
Pam Weinberger is currently studying to become a psychotherapist and is completing her clinical internship at KW Counselling Services in Kitchener. She and her husband are the parents of two amazing, active and self-determined children.
Our arrival at this issue was a big surprise for my husband and I. Since our kids are not yet teenagers, I had this notion that we somehow had time before some of the more subtle teachings of navigating social media were required. Recent events in my life have proven just how out of touch that notion was.
Just when I was at my wit’s end with my infant keeping me up all night, she would surprise me and pull off a 12-hour sleep. When I thought we had successfully navigated potty training and left diapers behind, my toddler “regressed” and insisted on returning to diapers. When I finally found a vegetable my son would eat, it suddenly became the most repugnant food to him. When I thought we were still into dolls and dress-up, my daughter discovered black lipstick and selfies.
My job as their parent is to try to keep up and support them on their journey. This statement has never been truer than when my daughter moved into the world of middle school and social media.
My husband and I had several conversations about what social media use would look like in our home. Because of the age of our children, we set parameters around the length of time the kids could be on their devices, who they were allowed to “friend” on social media, and required that we have access to all their accounts. We watched, with pleasure, as our children posted pictures of our dog, “liked” videos of making slime, and created worlds in Minecraft.
Both at school and at home, our children have engaged in conversations about privacy and online safety.
A couple weeks ago, my daughter showed me a cute picture of our dog she had posted online. I watched as a flicker of pain and disappointment crossed her face as she commented, “Oh. It only got 5 likes.”
On another occasion, I found her in tears because a girl she had been best friends with had posted on her Instagram account that another classmate was her “new best friend of all best friends”.
A close friend of mine recently reached out for advice on how to handle a situation in which some of her daughter’s classmates used their Facebook accounts to rate how attractive all the girls in grade seven were and placed her daughter in last place. Her daughter was understandably devastated.
While I initially reflected on how much screen-time was appropriate or how to balance the need to protect and guide my children with their need for independence, these recent situations have made me realize that my kids have led me, yet again, into new and unknown territory where I struggle to keep up.
How do I help guide my daughter to define her own self-worth when the world she is a part of tells her that the number of likes a post gets or other’s perception of beauty defines her worth? How do I help her truly understand the power of words and the impact of her actions online? How do I help her navigate a world that did not even exist when I was her age?
Of course, there are many who might set a rule of ‘no social media’ in order to avoid the dilemmas we have encountered. My husband and I have chosen, instead, to find ways to support our children, while we still have some influence in how they engage in the “new normal” of their generation. We certainly don’t have answers or even a solid plan, but we are trying hard to learn and to keep open communication alive and well in our home.
As with all the other developmental stages we’ve been through, our path will inevitably be riddled with missteps, opportunities for reflection, and many moments of us trying to keep up as our kids march quickly into the next phase of their lives.
Social media and children: we’re there now!
Editor’s note: What great insights from Pam! I think we have all been there. If not with social media and children, certainly with something else. One of our greatest joys in parenting is watching how our children respond to the world around them….this is also one of our greatest challenges. For more insight into the Joys and Challenges of Parenting, check out Teresa’s article.