Connecting with your kids through social media
John Cowan from The Parenting Place shares his thoughts on how to connect with your kids through social media. For more info on The Parenting Place, click here.
Technology gave you your first view of your child. Months before you got to see your infant in the flesh – wet, red and wrinkled – you saw your precious child on an ultrasound screen. Nothing electronic can substitute for cuddles and closeness (yet) but most modern parents already use a lot of technology to stay in touch with their kids. And it can work well – one survey shows that when parents connect with their children through social media, their teenagers say they feel closer to them.*
Of course, I can sense the reactions of more cautious souls who are quick to point out that technology does not just connect your children to you – it can also connect them to every creep on the planet. Of course, it is wise to be wary – especially when your kids are younger. Wrap rules and supervision around your children when they use phones or go online. You will find lots of good cyber-safety articles on the net – including digi-parenting.co.nz – about using safety features on your children’s phones and negotiating good rules.
Some apps and programmes are better than others for allowing children to dabble their toes in social media while still being very safe and private. Of course, Facebook can be tweaked and customised to suit your family’s needs but, but there are other options too.
One family I know uses group chat in a closed WhatsApp group to message each other and swap pictures and videos. Another excellent app developed in New Zealand is called kin2kin. It is simple to use but can handle the complexities of modern family life. It aims to connect generations by safely including tech-savvy kids and seniors – functioning a bit like an online photo album (some call it a grandparent brag book). kin2kin is fun, easy, very useful, and Netsafe likes it too!
As your kids get older, and take more charge of their own cyber-lives, it is wise to know where they are hanging out. A recent survey of American teenagers showed that their favourite apps were Snapchat and Instagram, and more and more of them enjoy shouting to the world through Twitter (which until recently, had mainly been used by older people). Facebook is, of course, still the most monstrous and popular social media site, but it is less popular with young people. For years, teenagers have said they don’t like it because it’s too ‘old-fashioned’ and it’s where their parents hang out. But they still tend to have accounts and use it along with other platforms.
Regardless of what platform they use (and if you are reading this article more than five seconds after I wrote it, there will be new apps and new trends), here are a few basics for parents:
- Don’t be embarrassing. Teens actually take their online privacy seriously, and they don’t like it when you post pictures of them publicly without their permission. Remember all those baby pictures you posted of them? – they are not grateful you did that. And behave yourself – children can be weirdly prudish about their parent’s behaviour! That cartoon is really funny but it might be better sent privately to your friends rather than risking the scorn of your 14 year-old-daughter!
- Private is fine. Use text or Facebook messages to communicate with your kids, rather than posting publicly to the world that they have a 3:30 appointment with the orthodontist.
- Be a side-line coach. When children first start playing soccer, their parents run around on the field with their little kids – there are lots of coaches, right there on the field. That’s great, at the start, but very quickly the parents drop back to the side-lines. They watch, they cheer, they give coaching afterwards, but they stay off the field. That’s probably not a bad online strategy as well. Drop back. Have some channels where you actively communicate with your kids, but when your kids are interacting with their friends, be discrete. Don’t comment on all their pictures or chime in with comments.
- Play games. I spoke to a man whose children are now in England while he has to remain here in New Zealand. A couple of times a week he goes online and plays games with them. They chat over headphones and have a great time.
- Let your kids know you’re thinking of them. Often. Anytime. I just did.
- Don’t get grumpy. It doesn’t come across well in text. And if they think you have come across as grumpy, even if you did not mean to be, apologise, because you can never convince them that you didn’t mean it. Tone is a tricky skill to master on social media. When in doubt, err on the side of being too nice and mushy.
- Hide and seek. As different platforms and apps coming into vogue, do some discrete searching for your kids on them. The teenage years have lots of challenges for kids and for the parents who love them, and staying informed about their world is the best way to help them fly through these years well. Befriend their friends on social media. You may find your kids in their pictures, maybe doing things they wouldn’t post on their own pages! Don’t be too creepy in your intelligence gathering, but it pays to keep your cyber-eyes open. If you do need to step in, remember – you can do a lot on social media but, when it comes to raising issues about their behaviour, face-to-face is always best!
Sarah Coyne et al, Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. January 2014, 17(1): 8-13. doi:10.1089/cyber.2012.0623.