I was reading an article on the AAP’s Healthy Children website about the use of social media by teenagers that was outlining a study reporting how much time children and adolescents spend on social media sites. The numbers are substantial, estimating that kids are spending 28% of their day using the computer and that much of this time is spent on interactive websites. These numbers are outdated by a few years and likely have increased in the interim.
The statement that caught me was this: “Anything that takes up this much space in young people’s lives deserves our full attention.”
I agree. And therefore, I ask, what takes up space in your child’s life? And to follow up, are you paying attention to it?
I think that knowing what your child is paying attention to and “talking” about has likely become harder since I was a child. As a teenager, if I was “talking” to my friends, I was actually speaking out loud (you know, talking). This meant we were physically in the presence of one another (my parents knew where I was) or talking on the phone, and if the house phone was in use, my parents knew about it. Now when kids are “talking” (read: chatting, texting, liking, commenting on, posting, tweeting, etc.) with their friends, they are communicating, but parents can’t hear it unless they are tuned in to “listen” in the right ways.
How much time and attention does your child give their phone and computer? Are you tuned in to what they are hearing and saying? Do you have access to and take note of what is being said online and via text? Do you talk (the “speaking out loud” meaning of this word) to your children about what they are texting, posting, tweeting, etc.?
This is an opportunity to provide guidance in the appropriate use of various media modalities. I know of multiple children/adolescents who have found themselves in trouble at school or in sticky social situations due to things they posted online that likely seemed harmless at the time. I think it’s important that parents have access to their kids’ online accounts. For many sites, full access requires you to have the login and password. Facebook allows the savvy user to censor who sees what is on their page even if you are connected as a “friend.” I know many parents who establish the habit of collecting cell phones at bedtime when they first get them for their children so that becomes a habit rather than a terrible invasion of privacy.
I am not necessarily one to endorse hovering and commenting on all texts, tweets, posts etc, particularly for teenagers who have proven themselves worthy of trust. However, I do think it is worth paying attention to what is going on in the online world and via text to know more about what your child is paying attention to. This allows parents to become a part of the discussion, and that is always worthwhile.