Parenting is a lot like snorkeling around the Great Barrier Reef. You take a deep breath, dive headfirst into a world that you thought you knew you understood. Once you're under, it becomes clear it most certainly is not what it seemed.
Sometimes you see something truly breathtaking and magical. Other times, you come across something horrifying like a sea turtle caught in a six pack ring. Either way, at the end of the journey, you're exhausted and out of breath, but you know it was well worth the time.
Most people would agree that there are always new problems that face each generation of parents when raising a child. Nowadays, there’s a new hurdle for parents, a new six pack ring if you will. This new problem on the horizon is parents themselves.
Oddly enough, this new threat isn't to children from abusive dads or overprotective moms. The threat actually comes from a parent’s past actions: from blogs, Twitter accounts and Facebook posts of parents themselves. Children now and in the future can find the very real internet footprints left by their parents, which can cause trouble.
Whether it's in the form of children trying to imitate a stunt their father did or repeat an offhand comment they saw on their mom's Facebook, children are repeating actions seen on Facebook. Without adult intervention, this repetition’s only going to get worse.
Not surprisingly, there are already parents trying to combat the negative effects of parents online through different strategies and approaches. Some parents want to educate, some want to cut social media off altogether, but the one thing these people have in common is a drive to protect their kids.
A Life Without Internet
One woman has a way of dealing with this hurdle: avoid it. Jessica Brown's idea is to emulate a time without social media. That may sound crazy at first until she defends her outlook.
It may come as a shock to some, but Brown thinks that many parents haven’t been able to keep up with the changing internet landscape and many kids are finding out who their parents really are. She knows that kids will always imitate adults especially if an adult’s actions are embarrassing or dumb. The simple answer to stop kids from finding out embarrassing or often reckless actions of parents is to cut out the internet.
Brown wants to go back to a time where her son won't have access to social media. She feels that the internet and many of the ways we communicate have changed how parents approach their children and interact. “I want my child to interact with other kids and myself in person, not with Facebook messages.”
She believes that with many parents becoming Facebook friends with their kids is counteractive. “I want my kid to give me respect because I'm his mom. Not like and follow my posts.” She goes on to speak about how she wants him to know the difference between a friend and authority figure as social media sometimes blurs that line.
According to Brown, despite not having anything that her own son could throw into her face online, she does have friends that she doesn't want him learning anything from. She says that she “can imagine the ideas he could get from some of the activities my friends have posted on Facebook.” That’s what worries her.
She also knows that the mistakes of one’s youth should be teaching lessons and that it really is difficult to have them online for your own kids to see and maybe even re-enact. “If my son makes a mistake in life, he should hopefully own it and learn from it,” says Brown. She just doesn’t want him repeating mistakes of other adults.
Brown thinks that kids having access to parents’ old internet footprints doesn't let parents be parents and kids be kids. She explains that social media and some aspects of the internet have caused both parents and children to be lazy and limited how we gather information, communicate and who we trust. “Instant gratification is something I don't want my kid involved with,” says Brown.
She defends her point of view with her own upbringing and refers to those who grew up with the internet in its infancy: “We had to wait to know what our friends thought of things, we had to follow the news for events not twitter, we had to think about our actions instead of just posting a comment then deleting if it was inappropriate.”
Brown urges that even with all the good the internet’s done, she wants her son to talk to her rather than text her. To look up information in published paperback books, not online. She wants him to understand that not everything should be instant and that sometimes life isn't as glamorous as the internet makes it out to be.
With all said and done, Brown’s not stone faced to the world around her. “I know sooner or later my boy will want a cell phone and use social media to make plans with his friends. I just want him to know how it can affect him.” She points out that she knows as long as she’s diligent with him, he’ll grow up with the same respect she had for her parents.
An Alternative Approach
Although Brown has her own way to deal with the way social media’s affecting parenting, Barb Smith, a registered early childhood educator, has a different approach. Smith’s worked with children over 25 years and has seen many potential threats and understands the concerns being shown towards this odd new challenge for parents.
Smith does explain that children imitating their parent's actions, good or bad, is something that’s always happened. So children getting into trouble based off the discovery of parent's social media is not just a possible concern, but a real thing that’s going to happen.
This phenomenon has been demonstrated often when Smith allows free time for the children she educates. “They used to pretend to call each other on land line phones or play store and use pretend money,” says Smith. She goes on to say that “now they pretend text and tweet, they now use imaginary debit and credit cards.” This means that children are not only seeing what their parents are doing, but striving to mimic the behavior. This would explain why people are worried about children mimicking parent’s online behaviors as well.
Smith points out that even younger children are becoming proficient with tablets and phones and that stopping them from getting to social media outlets may be easier said than done. She does say that parents may not have to worry about small children trying to recreate stunts and pranks, but older kids could very well be trouble.
Smith warns that the elimination of all social media from a child’s life may not be the perfect solution. “There needs to be a balance,” says Smith. She continues on to say that “sometimes they come across things they shouldn't and without proper understanding there could be serious problems.”
Smith points out that this has always been happening and isn't anything to worry about. “All parents have to do is sit their children down and explain to them what's right and what's wrong. Teach children not to emulate all.” She stresses that the most parenting problems can be solved with vigilance. Parents need to be vigilant of what they've done in the past and monitor what their kids are getting into.
She does, however, understand why a person would want to shut out the modern world of instant gratification. Being a parent herself, she understands that there are many different parenting approaches to handling complex issues. “I can't judge other parents for removing the presence of social media or even using it as a babysitter.” She says that there’s a solution so obvious it may have gone unseen.
Her solution: parents just need to be parents. Her statement may not be glamorous or new, but she states that her words worked for other issues in the past. “Children are still leaning towards new technology and will continue to grow with it and move forward. Parents just have to interact and teach responsible behavior.”
She finishes off by saying that “if kids know the effects of social media, they will make good decisions, maybe even learn from the mistakes their parents made.” Smith's parting words are filled with understanding. She stresses that “we can't judge parents for their approaches to this issue. We're not there.”
There’ll always be new difficulties when it comes to new or existing technology. There’ll always be difficulties in raising children. We need to remember that with every new threat, there are always different ways of dealing with it.
All we can do is wait and hope parents can handle this social media threat. After all, if the children are happy and healthy at the end of the day, then who are we to say what’s right or wrong?
Nowadays, there’s a new hurdle for parents, caused by their own past actions: from blogs, Twitter accounts and Facebook posts of parents themselves. Children now and in the future can find the very real internet footprints left by their parents, which can cause trouble.