The parent of a sixth grader emailed me from her iphone:
“Kids and Social Media. Help! My adjustment to Marcus’s emerging, pre-teen social media life is akin to the four stages of grief—denial, anger, depression, and acceptance. I started with ‘get off the computer now,’ as I witnessed this new viral habit consuming his attention (that previously went to piano practice, reading, and family time). Then, I tried the logical approach. ‘Hey, why don’t you finish up that chat (as the screen pings and his fingers fly across the keyboard in cryptic abbreviations) so that you have time to finish preparing for your math test.’ But I started to recognize that I need to respect his new social media world enough to give it some degree of privacy. I began to notice the rare (and not altogether reliable) sparks of maturity when he might sometimes ask me to help him: ‘Mom. Interrupt me in 20 minutes. I have some other things I want to do besides be on facebook.'”
I congratulate this parent on coming up the learning curve rapidly. The standard adult knee-jerk reactions of denial and anger are bad for many reasons: a) anger is not helpful, b) denial models decision-making based on ignorance, c) the technology is actually turning out to be very useful, and d) it is here to stay. In most cases controlling a child’s use of the technology is proving less effective than staying up-to-date with the latest advances. Parents and teachers are often so intent on educational outcomes that they tend to forget that children have to learn good decision-making by actually making decisions.
When I turned 12 my father gave my first Swiss Army Knife. Along with the knife came a lesson in how and how not to use it. He carefully showed how I could cut myself unless I used it properly. That didn’t stop me from nearly cutting off the tip of the index finger on my left hand two days later. No one suggested, however, that I should get rid of the knife.
It behooves parents to keep up with the technological advances, not because they are good or evil, but because we need to learn their values and their dangers so that we can help our kids. We cannot help them navigate the landscape of social media, if we don’t know how works.
But there is a more important reason: When our children know something we don’t know, it gives our relationship with them a chance to be reciprocal. Kids teaching adults? That’s good for the family in the short run and the future of homo sapiens on the planet in the long run.