Kids and Social Media

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.

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6 Responses to Kids and Social Media

  1. Quentin says:

    I found this story interesting, especially in regards to the broader question of how to deal with it in regards to raising children in a society where more and more technology consumes our daily lives. Social media is just another in a line of distractions/indulgences like TV, video games and other forms of entertainment kids need to learn how to manage in their lives. At least they might learn to spell better!

  2. Rick says:

    The world has indeed gotten more complex and everything happens faster. Rapid change does keep kids on their toes, but most of them seem to keep up rather naturally. I found “Everything Bad is Good for You” by Steven Johnson to be a fun read, AND indeed we don’t want technology to consume our lives. When I was a kid Sunday was a moratorium on goal-directed activity, but alas.

    Learning to spell better will require good teaching and a lot of writing practice. I do not think there is a relationship between social media and spelling unless perhaps we get to the extremes; e.g. a kid who spends all day in front of a screen, goes to a school where they don’t teach spelling, never plays with other kids, and never goes outside to play.


    PS. Spelling comes easily to some people; for others it is hard. Today, at the age of 65 I can write a whole page and not have my “spell check” correct me once, but it took me years of writing and correcting, writing and correcting, writing and correcting, before I became a good speller.

  3. Hi Rick — I’m so glad I’ve come across your site. THis older post caught my eye, as I’m wrestling with the tragedy of these first generations of kids who seem to be losing touch with Nature and with real-world discovery and wonder. It’s good to have your wise perspective.
    Do you know of the work of Richard Louv, author of Last Child In the Woods?

  4. Rick says:

    Thank you. Yes I do know Last Child in the Woods–important book. …and I love your website.

  5. Anne Marie Schar says:

    Just reread this 5 years later. This is a good insight. I see sparks in my daughter of wanting to play games on her tablet but then feeling like she didn’t do anything other than playing on the tablet yet resisting when I suggest other activities…how to support her…next step.

  6. Rick says:

    Anne Marie, Maybe don’t suggest other activities. Say, “Let’s go to ______this afternoon, or “Tomorrow we’re going to climb Mt. Tam.” etc.

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