We sat around a sticky table at Starbucks when one mother said to another mother,
"Honestly. I can't believe you gave your ten year old a smart phone! Don't you know how dangerous it is?"
Other mothers started to chime in with all kinds of " children and technology" opinions. It's terrible for their brain development! It makes them accessible to cyber-bullying! They become vulnerable to online predators!
The mother, in question, took another sip of her flat white and then placed it carefully in the middle of the table.
"I didn't give my ten year old a smart phone. Her *father* did. When we separated, he bought it for her because she started to have panic attacks at bedtime. When she is with me at night, he will FaceTime her until she falls asleep. When she is with him, I do the same. "
Suddenly Starbucks fell silent and we all felt a little stupid.
What you need to know about kids, smart phones + parent pressure:
1. This is a personal decision that parents need to make for their individual child. The polling consensus doesn't get a vote.
You have to do what is best for your child. Period.
- It is the responsibility of the parent to inform themselves of all the possible positive and negative effects of smart phone/social media usage.
- It is the responsibility of the parent to assess their own child's individual maturity to handle 24 hour access to information and peer interaction.
- It is the responsibility of the parent to create healthy boundaries and positive restrictions to safeguard their child and protect them from online harm.
- It is the responsibility of the parent to make a decision, enforce their decision, and be confident in their decision as it pretains to social media, smart phone and their kid.
No one else gets a say. As much as peer pressure is alive and well today... so is "parent pressure". Newsflash, people: Parenting in this highly technologically driven age is really friggin' hard to navigate. So, let's be gentle with each other. Okay?
2. Personal Social Media/ SmartPhone Policy should be communicated to parents/adults who are temporarily caring for your child.
Parents have the right to enforce their family's personal phone/social media policy no matter where their child is. Here's an example: Your daughter is attending Little Susie's slumber party. You are not sure if the other children at the slumber party have access to a smart phone but your personal family phone/social media policy is that your daughter's picture is not to be on social media sites nor should she engage on any a social media site. This personal policy should be communicated to Little Susie's parents, "Hey. Just a heads up...our daughter is not allowed to be on or engaging on any social media sites. We would really appreciate if you could help us honor that commitment we made." Will Little Susie's parents honor your request? There is no guarantee... but if they are decent folks, they will. Even so, you got to communicate what you want held accountable.
A mistake that many parents make is that they assume parents of other children have similar family social media/ smart phone policies. When they find out that Little Billy introduced their child to the world of Snap Chat at Billy's house... they freak out. Little Billy's parents allow him to use Snap Chat with some restrictions but Little Billy's parents had no idea that Snap Chat was not something that all parents were cool with. Do you see the problem? Lack of communication means lack of accountability.
Parents have got to get comfortable with communicating what their personal policy is. They don't have to defend or give reason for their policy but they do need to make it known.
3. Parents shouldn't feel like they have to defend their phone/social media policy to anyone...except to their kid.
Throw tomatoes at me if you will, but your kid needs to know the "why" behind the phone/social media policies you are putting into place. The old line of, "Cause we say so", just doesn't cut it these days (did it ever?) . This classic parental proclamation will NOT empower your child to stand up to the peer pressure they are going to have to navigate.
When we educate our children with why we have restrictions or particular policies, we are empowering them. Will they always agree with our reasons? Um...no...but at least we will equip them with good information that they can weigh against what information their peers will offer them. We have got to give our kids the opportunity to think critically.... especially in this technologically driven age. We do this by informing.
4. Parents should help other parents out by reporting dangerous activity discovered on social media.
No. No one gets to tell you how to parent your kid. No. One. But if you happen to stumble upon Little Judy's finsta account where she is posing in her bra and panties and talking dirty to 30 year old men... I think it's fair to discreetly inform Little Judy's parents of this kind activity.
Once another mother said to me, "Oh my God! Did see So-and-So's daughter's fake Instagram account ! She was half naked in her last post. I doubt all the men that made comments on her post knew she was only 13."
I responded, "Do her parents know?"
She said "I don't know. It's not my problem. She's not my kid."
To which I replied , "So...it's not your problem... but it IS you latest piece of hot gossip?" (Side note: I get snarky when I feel like people aren't taking children's safety seriously)
Look. I get it. Some of us don't want to tell parents that they are kids are cyber-bullying... the target of cyber-bulling ... posing half naked in posts... or chatting online to strangers... because it's uncomfortable. It IS uncomfortable. Get over it. Our kids are too precious to not make it our business to keep them safe. If you see something that concerns you, say something to the people who love that child the most: the parents.
Our kids are living in way different world than the world WE lived in as children. Technology has changed but kids haven't. Kids still need parents to be their loving leaders who make good decisions on their behalf. So...
1. The decision about social media/phone policy is personal for each parent to weigh for their child.
2. We need to communicate appropriately what our personal policy is if we want it to be enforced no matter where our child is.
3. We need to empower our kids by educating them on the reasons why we have particular social media/phone policies.
4. We need to help each other out and make the safety of all children our business.
We can do this.
We can lead this generation well. We were born for it.
Always cheering for you,