When young couples dream of having children, they dream about such things as holding their newborn infant for the first time, watching them take their first steps, and experiencing countless moments of pure joy and love for a child they’ve created together. And while all those things do happen, the reality we come to understand is that parenting is hard! And parenting in today’s world of technology is even harder! As a mother of four kids, I often find myself saying ‘I wish I was a parent years ago before phones and social media existed. It was probably so much easier.’ Of course, parenting in any generation came with its own set of issues, but the advent and influence technology and social media have on our children have certainly caused many extra layers of complexity as we raise our young children into pre-teens and especially through the rough teenage years. Let’s take a closer look at some of the pitfalls we can run into navigating our children through these social media times.
-“But mom everyone has a phone except me!”-It seems like the “appropriate” age to provide your child with a phone keeps getting younger and younger. So how do you determine when is it the right time to put the phone in your child’s hands? First, as difficult as it may be, try not be swayed by the ‘but everyone else has one’ argument. Generally, when kids make that statement, we realize their idea of everyone is likely to be skewed. No one knows your child better than you, so base your decision on them personally. There is no right age and as parents, we have to be comfortable with the timing. It is also important to remember that allowing your kids to have a phone and allowing them to join social media sites can be two different things! Consider…
- Are they responsible enough to take care of a phone?
- What are the needs they (and you) have that the phone would serve?
- How would you guide them in making decisions on who to friend, who to accept, and what to post?
Understand the lure of the smartphone. These devices are designed to get users addicted by offering variable reward. Meaning, we don’t know if each time we check, there will be a new message or ‘friend’ for us. Sometimes there is and this gives us a dopamine hit which feels good. Other times, there isn’t. It’s the possibility of ‘reward’ that keeps us coming back (adults too). It is a powerful force and you will need to set consistent guidelines for its use.
-“I guess I wasn’t invited to Julia’s party that everyone is posting about”-Being an adolescent is hard enough with issues such as trying to fit in and make friends. Years ago, kids may have heard about a party they were left out of after the fact. But in today’s social media age, kids are seeing all social activities every other kid is doing on any given day. This provides a lot of opportunities for them to feel left out or bad about themselves, ultimately potentially affecting their self-esteem. As parents, it is important to teach our kids how to feel confident in themselves and not compare their social lives to anyone else’s or base their worth on how many followers they have. This is a tough lesson; after all, how many of us have seen a Facebook post about a night out that we weren’t included in and felt badly? We need to share the lessons we remind ourselves with our kids…
- Focus on the friends you have
- Not everyone gets invited to every event and how to accept that
- One’s worth is not determined by how many (often superficial) online friends one has
– “I’ll put down the phone in a minute. I just want to send this Snap”-We have likely all read countless articles about how much time adolescents spend on their phones today, and how detrimental that can be. But how much time is too much? And how do we get our kids to actually enjoy other activities when the lure of social media is so huge? As with the “right” age, there is also no magical amount of screen time that is appropriate. Again, every child is different and you want to consider how much time is appropriate for your child. But, engaging them in other activities is certainly an important element in this dilemma. It’s hard enough to connect with our adolescents, but even harder when having to fight for their attention with the screen. So don’t hesitate to make certain activities technology free! Consider…
- Involving them in other (offline) activities
- Establish phone-free times, such as mealtime
- Make family movie nights – take turns who chooses the film and make special snacks for the occasion
- Initiate in-person conversation with your kids (riding together in the car is a great time for this).
The technology won’t stop evolving, and parenting will always be hard! But with some focus on the rewards, we can all get to continue experiencing those daily moments of pure joy we dream about. If you need help with parenting in these tough times, please feel free to contact us at 908-246-3074 or GetSupport@CouplesTherapyCenterOfNJ.com.