Children versus social media

It is no great surprise that much of what is posted online is mostly geared towards stirring up controversy for the sake of getting ‘eyes’ on content.

Nov 04, 2022

                                          Purposeful Parenting Christine Fernandez

It is no great surprise that much of what is posted online is mostly geared towards stirring up controversy for the sake of getting ‘eyes’ on content. As a Christian I believe that, although the Bible may not specifically mention teachings on social media, Scripture has given us all that we need to approach social media in a God-honouring, God-glorifying manner in Proverbs 11:19; Ephesians 5:15-16; and Colossians 4:5, that instructs us to avoid gossip, rumours, and slander (Proverbs 20:19) because babbling and foolish talk can often lead to serious damage and confusion. What more when children are involved and allowed to partake in social media.

We all know that kids crave contact with friends and peers, and that social media has become an important way for children to interact these days. However, it can be a lifeline for children who are isolated.

Even though social media enhances knowledge, awareness and creativity, it has the potential to become addictive, trouble causing and to harm fragile self-esteem. Since children are quick to pick up on digital technology, it can be a big job for parents and carers to keep up with them and to monitor what they are accessing in the way of games, music, videos, photos and websites.

The biggest challenge — when is the right time to let your kids have access to social media? And how much access? This is a real challenge for 21st century parents and carers.

Children will start to push for access to social media from as early as nine years of age. As a parent you may feel pressured to allow it because you do not want them to feel left out. Therefore, when is the best time? It depends on, not just your child’s age but their maturity as well, since kids develop at different rates. Experts believe that readiness for social media depends on things like their ability to read social cues, their impulse control and vulnerability to criticism or rejection. Furthermore, initial access should come with a lot of discussion beforehand and a parent or guardian iterating … “Here is what I consider to be acceptable/ unacceptable behaviour when accessing social media …”, coupled with monitoring the platforms your kids are on and what they are posting. By doing this you will help your child learn the do’s and don’ts rather than just hoping that they will figure it out. Furthermore, it is important to prompt your child to think through who he/she is sharing with, as well as what is appropriate to share. Therefore, sit with your kids and throw questions like, “How do you define who is a friend online?” and “What are you willing to share?” Such questions are important because children view social media through the lens of their own lives.

When children are struggling to stay on top of things or suffering from low self-esteem, they are more likely to interpret images of peers having fun as confirmation that they are doing badly compared to their friends. Therefore, these social feeds can become fuel for negative feelings like self-doubt, low self-esteem and worthlessness about themselves. So, how can you, as a parent/carer, help your children build a safe and reasonable relationship with social media before they are out on their own?

Firstly, take social media seriously and don’t underestimate the role it plays in your child’s life, especially your teenagers. For them, social media is everything — where things like slights, break-ups, likes or negative comments are all very real. Therefore, make absolutely sure that as a parent, guardian or carer, you are really listening and not dismissing or minimising their experiences. Secondly, encourage your kids to think outside the (crop) box by encouraging them to explore social media in a more critical way. For example, question what your child thinks has been cropped or edited out of their friends’ “perfect” pictures and why. Furthermore, questions like “Do you think your friends are really the people they appear to be online?”, “Does looking at social media affect your mood?”, “What’s the purpose of posting a photo?” allows your child to use critical thinking in a positive manner.

When dealing with your child remember “not to provoke them, lest they become discouraged” (Colossians 3:21). Thirdly, go on a social holiday. If your child is getting so wrapped up in social media and you are worried, take a social holiday. This is for everyone, including you as parents and carers. Practise what you preach and pledge to stay off media for a while. Have more family time together and talk about everything and find out what is going on with their lives by being a good listener. It can be a challenge for both kids and you as a parent/guardian.

Finally, as parents and guardians you should not be relying on social media to find out how your child is really doing. Your child may be posting smiley faces all day long but feeling rotten inside. Look out for these cues on their faces and their body language and do not let go. Let them know that it is safe to talk to you or someone they trust and encourage them to share their feelings by supporting them. Always reassure your children that you are not disappointed but proud that they are reaching out.

Use phrases like: “I am so glad that you want to talk about it; It sounds like you are feeling overwhelmed; I am here and I love you no matter what; Let’s talk it through together.” This will help your children build the confidence they need to accept themselves as unfiltered, unedited and imperfect.

Therefore, do your best to steer your kids in the right direction by being “completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another with love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2-3). Have a blessed week.

(Christine Fernandez is a social worker, counsellor, chaplain, parent and grandparent. She would love to hear your parenting stories. Do drop her a line at: [email protected])

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