Plugged in parents for socially exposed kids

Debbi Carberry Children, Internet

Whether we like it or not social media is here to stay and our kids seem to love it. I believe that it is important for us to teach our children about safe and appropriate use of social media and the internet in general.

Kids do some of their studies online, they engage with friends and they have social activities that they may engage in too.

As parents it’s our job to get informed and make sure we know as much (if not more) about the dangers and benefits of having an online presence than our children.

The good stuff

We have unprecedented access to information and knowledge than at any other time in history  – I don’t know about you but we had the Encyclopaedia Britannica at my house when I was growing up – now our kids get stuck on a piece of homework and its google time.   We have access to journal articles, research and scientific material in just a few seconds.

When I was growing up most kids joined community, neighbourhood, and school groups and it was fairly rare for us to venture outside of our local streets. Social networking and the internet now make it possible to talk to and interact with people from anywhere in the world in real time.

The not so great stuff

Kids can share way too much personal information online, they can lack the understanding that once something is posted online it cannot be removed – that people who were not the intended recipients may get access to it – and in some cases this can leave kids vulnerable to possible predators.

Kids will post things that they would never  say when standing face to face with the intended recipients. They do not think through consequences of behaviour online and this can lead to all sorts of issues including online bullying and sharing material that is of a sexual nature.

The NEED to be connected

In my clinic I’m seeing a troubling trend in teens presenting with significant issues due to the amount of likes or followers that they have on social media.   These kids become very emotionally distressed even anxious and self-loathing at times if selfies are not liked or do not receive enough positive comments.

In addition kids want to be connected most of the time – either by mobile, computer or ipad. This can significantly disrupt studies, social time that is face to face and a disconnection from family members.

There are now some concerns in relation to health and social media. Current research shows that there is an addictive nature of social media which can lead to eating disorders, obesity, heart problems, sleep disorders, and other pertinent health issues (when the use is excessive). These issue can be due to not disconnecting and sitting on line for long periods as well as not participating in physical activities.

I don’t believe that it is possible or desirable to stop our kids using social media, I do however think that as parents we need to seriously attend to making sure our kids are monitored (closely) and supported to make healthy and safe choices on line and educated about the permanency of anything they post.

So how exactly do we do that?

I don’t know about your place but I’ve got an IT specialist living at my place and we couldn’t keep up with the kid’s access to the internet through the mountain of devices they have which include mobile phone, iPad, iPod the game consoles and any computers and laptops.

Many kids see parental controls as a temporary roadblock that can be easily bypassed with time –  and in my experience they are right for the most part. Children and teens particularly tend to want to naturally push boundaries and in many cases they have more computer knowledge than their parents.

It is possible to go to each and every device your children have and place parental controls on them, however this is time consuming and can feel a bit overwhelming for those of us who are technically challenged.

At my place we wanted something that we had control over, that every device was attached to and that we could monitor. We purchased a router with built-in parental controls which allows us to decide when a device can have internet connection and what the kids can access while they are online.

An example is my 18 year old has internet access a lot of the time for university study – however facebook, youtube and other pages that are deemed inappropriate by us are blocked. Once the study is done the social media is switched on usually after 8pm.

A good rule of thumb for kids aged 9 – 12 is about one hour a couple of times a day during non-study days.  The agreed time from 13 – 18 year olds need to be negotiated, that said 13 – 16 year olds still need strict guidelines to ensure they are not online for prolonged periods. As I stated earlier I still keep firm boundaries for my 18 year old. You need to take a look at your family and your values and work from there to see what is appropriate.

Sit down with your kids and check out some helpful websites in relation to cyber safety and cyber bullying. Here are two great ones:


Stymie from Stymie on Vimeo.

Online Safety has a kids page which is broken down into age groups as well as a parents page there are tons of great tips on this site

Having a technology agreement for your family is really helpful (I’ve added one to this post as an example) below:

Technology Agreement example (This can outline how computers and any mobile devices are used)

  1. When anyone wants to talk to you and you are at a device – stop and pay attention to what they are saying
  2. Please ask before you use anyone else’s computers etc
  3. Laptops are work devices.  They are not to be used by anyone other than the person who needs it for work.  Some exceptions may be granted with permission.
  4. No liquids or food near electronics.
Mobile devices:
  1. No one (including mom and dad) can check text messages or answer the phone when we are at the dinner table, watching a television program or film together, or playing a game together.
  2. Phones are handed over to parents at? (choose a time) which can be straight after school, after dinner or before bed depending on the age of the child.
Mediated transportation:
  1. When more than one person is in the car, no one can talk on the phone to other people
  2. DVD’s or movies can be watched in the car for long trips but not short ones
Media & Learning:
  1. While homework is being completed all social media must be blocked and not accessed (including mobile phones)
  2. Social Media or games may not be access during the week
  3. Social media or games are able to be accessed for one hour once all homework is completed
Media & Leisure:
  1. All games MUST be approved by a parent and MUST be age appropriate (preferably NOT violent specifically not first person – meaning you are the shooter !)
  2. There will be a time limit per day for this activity (times may be different on weekdays and weekends)
  3. We will have weekly technology-free activities, like hiking, biking, or walking the dogs
  4. If Mom or Dad are going to devote some time on a weekend or vacation to doing something on his/her own that involves media (and this includes reading), children will be allowed to enjoy approximately the same amount of time engaging in the mediated leisure of their choice.

I would love to hear your comment, questions or suggestions in relation to this blog or future posts.

Until next time ..