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  • Writer's pictureJames Marston

How We Police Social Media Use: Be Part of the Conversation (Social Media Series, Part 3 of 5)

I went to a training once that described many children as “digital natives.” The idea was that kids who grew up with access to technology will interact with it more instinctively and adeptly than those of us who were exposed to it later in life. 

Though I have a few reservations about it, I thought it was a handy way of looking at it. Kids are good with technology. Many times, they’ll come to know it better than we do. They’ll learn to find the stuff they want, and also all the stuff we don’t want them to find. If we try to hard block them from things and rely on that lock to keep them safe, they’ll find a way around it. 

I’m not saying DON’T hard block stuff, I’m saying that hard-blocking alone isn’t going to be enough. If we make technology into a game of hide-and-seek, we’re going to lose. My recommendation is to avoid making it antagonistic, and keep bringing it back to mutual trust and support. 

That’s not to say there’s no consequence when trust is broken–just that the conversation is centered on trust, teamwork, and collaboration.

So how do we police its use? My recommendation is starting with a conversation with the child about what rules should guide its use. Talk about responsible use, talk about guiding values, and what you’ll be looking for to see that they are being responsible. Talk about privacy and what their expectation of privacy should be. Ask them that if they hit a point where they’re not sure what to do, or if they see something that is weird, or figure out a new way to do something with the technology, that they share it with you and talk about it. As long as they are coming to you with problems and decisions and talking it through with you, then they are demonstrating responsible technology use. 

If, in one of those conversations, a rule is decided, that becomes a binding rule. Breaking that rule is grounds for losing the privilege for a time. In general, I recommend giving a lot of grace if they come to you with something. We WANT them to come to us. We almost NEED them to come to us. The more they come to us, the more we get to have conversations, and the more we know what they’re dealing with. The real problems start when we don’t know what they’re dealing with. 

Which brings me to probably my most controversial take on children and technology: There is no inherent right to privacy at first. Especially with social media. 

As a rule, I’m pro-privacy. If you tell your child that something is private, I think you should respect that. If they have a diary, and you say you’re never going to read it, you shouldn’t read it. If you tell them that their email is private, then you shouldn’t read that e-mail. 

So, I recommend you don’t say that. Say something like, “At first, I want to make sure that you, and the people you interact with online, are being kind and appropriate. So when I come in, I’m going to be looking at your chats and emails. I won’t say anything unless there’s a problem, but what you post on social media, what you put out into the world through this device, and what you say to other people is my responsibility. Other people can be manipulative or mean, and it’s also my responsibility to help protect you from that, so I may check to make sure that things are going okay. Over time, I will do that less and less, and will give you more privacy. BUT, if I believe that there is a risk of harm, bullying, or being abusive to you or anyone else, I will absolutely check and make sure everybody is safe.”

Going back to wanting our children to come to us, that’s very much in play here. If they come to you with a friend who used a bad word, talk about the bad word, but respect that they came to you as more important than correcting the bad word. Kids will use bad words sometimes–it’s gonna happen. Getting your child to a place where they trust you and will come to you with stuff is so much more important. 

I do think it is important to check in on your children’s media. Disrupt it as little as possible, but do act to make sure you’re having conversations about boundaries, about racism, about controversial views and topics. Make sure you know what your children are hearing so that you can talk about it with them at a minimum, and act to keep them safe when necessary.

If having access to a certain technology is a privilege, a privilege can be lost. I recommend that when a privilege is lost, it’s due to 1.) violating a standing rule or understanding, 2.) breaking trust, or 3.) a result of malicious action.  

Outside of those three things, I think a conversation is usually sufficient to address most problems. 

All of this conversation and freedom is on a sliding scale based on a child’s age and stage of development. I’m not a fan of giving a 6-year old a cell-phone yet–I don’t think most of them are at a developmental stage where they should have unfettered access to a device that can give other people unfettered access to them. There are some 12 year olds that shouldn’t be allowed to take a device that can attach to the internet into a room there’s no adults in.  

As a final thought on this, I want to reiterate vigilance. The on-going conversation only works if you’re paying attention to what your child is doing with technology. Have conversations about what games they are playing, what apps they like, what YouTube videos they’re watching. If you don’t know what games they’re into, you don’t know enough about what they are using technology for. If you don’t know what sort of YouTube videos they’re watching, you need to find out. Even better, you want to know what YouTube videos they skipped and why. How do they make decisions about what they watch or don’t watch?  

Police them by being a part of their experiences and lives. Make the conversation around technology and media an on-going one, an open one, and a necessary one. 


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