By Ronald Skeete, MSEd
Let me tell you about one of the most frightening days of my life. After successfully avoiding the social media conversation with my daughter for 13 years, the day finally came as I drove her and a friend home from church, and my daughter asked, “Daddy, can I have Snapchat?”
My entire world froze as I thought about my beautiful innocent first born and straight-A student being exposed to the terrible world of social media. Just about every other night on the news, you hear about some crazy story where a young person is bullied, kidnapped, assaulted or worse due to something that started on social media, so in response to my daughter, I played dumb, “What’s a Snapchat?” My daughter’s friend laughed, and my daughter got annoyed because they both know that I specialize in Youth Development and train youth, parents and educators about these things all the time. “DAD!” my daughter barked. Quickly, I went to my handbook and tried to turn things around, “Why do you want Snapchat?” There was a pause and I thought I was safe; hopefully. she and her friend would move onto another subject, but then my daughter said clearly, “Well, Snapchat is a way my friends communicate, just like texting, and it allows us to be creative with pictures. It’s also safe because I would only add my friends–people you already know.” Growling to myself about it, I said, “We’ll see. Let me talk to your mother about this.”
“We’ll see” is usually like the deathblow to children. My daughter was deflated and probably embarrassed in front of her friend, but that was fine with me because it was consistent with my Dad 101 Handbook, which says 1) Don’t surprise me, especially when you are put up to it by a friend; and 2) I won’t ignore you, but I will always reserve the right to take my time and gather more information before deciding.
After talking with my better half, she was able to get me out of the “I am Daddy and it’s my way or the highway mode.” My wife reminded me that we have kept my daughter from all social media, including Facebook, for quite some time while all her friends have been on it. She helped me to see that for our straight A student, my protection may seem like a punishment and make her feel like we think she is untrustworthy or not responsible enough to use social media. Finally, as great wives do, she hit me with, “What do you tell parents in your Social Media trainings?” Growling again, I took my own advice, and here it is:
- If You Can’t Beat Them, Join Them: Unless you raise your child under a rock and they never leave the house, they are already exposed. Even if you run a tight ship in your home and your child doesn’t even have a cell phone; as long as they have a friend, watch TV or ride the school bus they WILL be exposed to social media. The best thing a parent can do is educate themselves and educate and empower their children.
- Set Boundaries: Before letting your child onto social media, be clear on your expectations (put them in writing if necessary. There are great sample Social Media contracts out there). With expectations, there always must be consequences. In other words, if you handle this well you may get more opportunities in the future, OR if you blow this, your phone will belong to me!
- Set Time to Check-In: Whether daily or weekly let your child know that you will be checking in. That can include checking their social media pages and/or having mandatory “shut-down” times. You may want to be included as one of your child’s social media “friends.” If not you, you may have another trusted family member (e.g. big brother, cousin or aunt) that can play this role. In other words, trust but verify.
- Use Your Community: There are plenty of great websites to help. In addition, most schools provide internet safety workshops and even the local police department as well. Also, connecting with the parents of your children’s friends can help you set-up a network of people looking out for their best interests.
- For Youth: Be yourself, but be thoughtful before you post, and, ultimately, be safe! Don’t connect with people you do not know or reveal personal information such as your location, etc. If someone sends you something inappropriate, tell your parents or teacher as soon as possible, and let them help you with the next steps.
In my case, I think you know how this ends–my daughter now has Snapchat. I am on it, but I still don’t understand how to use it, and she has daily boundaries of time when her phone must be off. Another chapter in the great adventures of fatherhood begins. Be well.