Week Eight: How Do I Keep Up?

Heads up, this is a long post and going to veer off of the normal This Little Country Road post.  It is a topic that deeply concerns most parents and I felt it was important to have a discussion around it.

The other day I saw an interesting post on my friend’s Facebook page regarding “13 Reasons Why”.  If you haven’t heard of it, it is a Netflix series that walks through the 13 reasons why a young woman kills herself.  From what I have heard, it is about as intense as it sounds.  The series has sparked a TON of controversy among parents.  It was interesting to see the comments by so many individuals ranging from loving the series to absolutely hating it.  I haven’t watched it so I am not here to tell you my thoughts on the series, but it does bring up a question that I think many parents ask themselves.  How do I keep up with all of this?  Tough topics, social media, the internet, cell phones.  It really can become overwhelming.

Before I begin, we have to admit that as parents, just like our children, we often don’t listen to the recommendations provided to us.  For example…

This series is rated NC-17.  This is defined by the Motion Picture of America as, “this film is not appropriate for children under the age of 17”.  From comments, the news and online commentary, it is apparent that many children under the age of 17 have seen this.

Instagram and Facebook have a minimum age requirement of 13 but there are a number of 4th, 5th and 6th graders on these platforms.

The American Academy of Pediatrics have warned parents of the negative effects cell phones and computers can have on children however many children have laptops, iPads and cellphones.

Okay, okay, so perhaps we have all broken the rules.  My kids have seen PG-13 movies and I do not have a 13 year old in the house yet.  We have a cell phone for our Oldest, even though I know that is probably a terrible idea.  I haven’t allowed any social media yet but my Oldest does text with his friends.

So we have pushed the suggested limits.  This doesn’t mean we want to provide our children a free for all.  So how do we manage this?  How do we keep up?  What should they be allowed to see?  What should they be allowed to do?

As a mom with a tween, someone who has spent the past few years presenting to children and parents on social media, and managed social media for the recruitment of college graduates, there are a few tips that I have shared with parents that perhaps may be of some service to all you.  I am not here to tell you how to parent, it is just a few suggestions that may help you out along the way.

You can’t give a crap what other people are allowed to do

This seems like a simple concept but parents sometimes fall into peer pressure just like kids do.  This series is a perfect example.  Some parents have deemed it okay for their children to watch.  If you don’t, don’t feel like you have to.  You don’t feel comfortable with your child on social media?  Keep them off.  The reality is, there are a lot more parents that feel the same way you do.  The “everyone is doing it” usually isn’t the case.

Don’t allow your child to utilize any social media platforms that you are not already on

It surprises me how often parents will tell me that their child is on Instagram or Snapchat but they are not.  I do believe that if you are not on social media, your children shouldn’t be either.  You need to monitor them, what they are saying, what they are posting and who they are engaging with.  Some may feel like this is a little invasive but this is the process of educating them on social media and it will really help them from making bad choices.  Think about it this way.  When a child turns 15 and gets their driving permit, they are given the freedom to drive but with an adult present, until they fully understand the ins and outs of driving.  Treat social media the same way.  Just because they have it doesn’t mean they really know how to use it.

Make it a requirement that if they are on social media, you must be allowed to follow them

These children have no idea that what they post today could have an affect on college and career.  Universities check, future employers check.  Sure they may be annoyed by having to have mom and dad follow along now but they may thank you for it later.  Beyond just seeing what they are posting, it will allow you to see their engagement, what people are saying and it may allow you to catch something that shouldn’t be out there by someone else.

Keep privacy settings set and ensure your child knows every single one of their followers

This sound simple but children do find it “cool” to have a lot of followers and will often accept a follow request from someone they don’t know so that their follower numbers go up.

Check their text messages and internet browser

It is so very important to randomly check their text messages and internet browser to see what they have been looking at on their devices.  With how accessible the world is, they have the ability to find so many things with just a click of a button and as parents we need to be aware of what they are looking at.  Again, you may think this violates their privacy but I have seen first hand how quickly texting can get out of control and mean and how an innocent video can lead to a completely inappropriate one.  Just as a note, statistics show that 9 out of 10 boys and 6 out of 10 girls are exposed to internet porn before the age of 18.  Suicides and rapes have been posted live on Facebook.  You just need to be aware of what they are saying and what they are seeing.

Keep the open conversations always going

The most important thing I tell parents when they ask about social media, cell phones and the internet is that they keep open conversations with their children on these really intense topics they are being faced with, such as bullying and teen suicide.  They see it all over social media and we need to let them know we are aware of it and talk about it with them.

I hate to state the obvious but as parents we cannot expect our children to make the best decisions all the time.  We cannot hand them a phone and expect them to understand how to use it appropriately.  We cannot let them sign up for social media or text and expect them to always post or say the right thing.  We cannot hand them a Netflix account and expect them to always watch what is appropriate for them.  That is up to us.

I often get asked where I stand on all this.  After spending 7 years in the social media and blogging world, surely, I am okay with all of this.  Here are my thoughts.  Take it with a grain of salt.

I think social media is amazing.  It connects the world in ways that we have never seen before and I have met people I would have never met and been involved in projects that would have never happened without it.  This blog wouldn’t even be possible!  That being said, I do not think that social media is appropriate for my son.  He is 12 and in my opinion, there is no reason for him to have Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook.  He asks me all the time and as of today, I have said no.  Maybe one day, but not yet.

As for cell phones, he got his first cell phone when he entered 6th grade.  This was because he was being given more independence in the world and staying in touch with him via text was a convenient way to contact him.  The present day pay phone.  He also has texting abilities and I will be honest that for a while, I was lax on checking his texts but a situation arose that was eye opening and I now checking them randomly all the time.  I also check his browser.

As for the discussions, with an almost 13 year old in the home, we have discussed sex, domestic abuse, drugs and alcohol, suicide, bullying, social media dangers, Facebook Live issues, texting etiquette, sexual assault, hate crimes, and online bullying.  Most of these topics were discussed because of situations that arose in our community, at school or from the news (I would like to thank ESPN and athletes for giving us parents a number of topics to discuss).  I feel very fortunate that he is so open with me and is willing to talk so candidly with me.    I frequently share how the internet and social media magnify these issues, which is one of the reasons I do not allow him to use it yet.  Obviously, he is too young to watch a series about any of these topics so that isn’t even an issue for me right now.

I know this was a very long post but I hope that it has given a little insight into what I have seen over the years and been asked to speak on.  It is an important conversation for all of us to continue to have as this technology is always changing and these topics are always going to be present, even more so than when we were young.  We all need to support each other and share in our own conversation as we walk through this stage of parenting.  Feel free to reach out with any additional questions you may have.

I hope you all have a great weekend.

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