“People call me an old man, but I guess I just don’t get it,” my 16-year-old son said. “What’s the point of just taking a bunch of selfies and sending them to people?”
He’d recently added Snapchat to his phone after years of resisting his friends’ pleas, and as he compared it to his other social media accounts – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and BeReal – he was increasingly confused about the way other kids chose to interact on each platform. “The filters aren’t a great idea either,” he told me. “I feel like nobody looks the way they look in real life, so it’s like a big competition to look the best on social, but then nobody’s happy and they’re chasing something fake anyway.”
I usually listen and nod and try to ask good questions, while silently counting myself lucky that we’ve so far been largely unaffected by some of the social media challenges many families face. This particular child of mine has had a few little missteps over the years, but he’s got a good head on his shoulders and remarkably good self-control when it comes to spending time and energy online. His younger brother, about to enter high school, has so far refused to get any kind of social media accounts, calling them “a stupid waste of time for insecure people.” But that doesn’t mean tech troubles are totally out of the picture for us. I could easily tell stories about the dramatic arguments we’ve had after setting limits on video games, virtual reality, and YouTube consumption – and that’s just for starters.
While every family will have different boundaries and limits on technology, there are good reasons for parents to be concerned about how our kids interact online. When I was researching our recent content about family dinner and eating disorders, the experts I spoke to expressed worry over the negative impact social media can have, especially on body image and disordered behaviors. Dr. Jennifer Goetz, speaking about teens she’s worked with in eating disorder recovery, said: “I often work with kids, teens, and families to disengage from social media by using a motivational interview approach to how it affects the individual on a day-to-day basis. I have yet to have someone disengage from social media who regrets it. For parents who are concerned about what their children may be consuming, the best bet is to talk directly to them.”
Social comparison – both body-focused and otherwise – is also a concern for Dr. Neha Chaudhury. She lists it alongside cyberbullying and dark, negative content as a reason for parents to be vigilant about what their kids are encountering online. But technology is here to stay, and our kids are living in an increasingly online world. What can parents do, and how should we be talking about tech to impart the judgment and digital citizenship values we want our kids to adopt? And how do we learn from them about the things they value in the virtual world, which we may not understand?
At this time of year, the calendar might be packed with end-of-school-year events. These freezer-friendly panini can save your family dinner on busy nights!
Let technology play a part with a round of Google Feud!
It can be hard to know where to start with conversations about social media and interacting online. Here are 20 questions to help you get the ball rolling.