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I recently read the book American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers by Nancy Jo Sales. It was the scariest book that I have read this year. Every parent needs to read this book.
The author talked to girls ages 13-19 in 10 different states about social media. Yes we all know kids can access porn online and we have all heard of cyber bullying. What scared me the most in the book was the girls saying, “I just can’t not be on my phone.” These girls talked about hating what was going on around them but being unable to leave their devices and social media behind. This is where I believe we can help as parents. Just as it is my job to monitor how much candy my three year old eats, it is my job to monitor how much social media my teen engages in.
In her Vanity Fair article on the same topic Nancy Jo Sales says:
“If you’re between 8 and 18, you spend more than 11 hours a day plugged into an electronic device. The average American teen now spends nearly every waking moment on a smart phone or computer or watching TV. This seismic shift in how kids spend their time is having a profound effect on the way they make friends, the way they date, and their introduction to the world of sex.”
My kids have actually complained to me about hanging out with friends who spend the entire time on their phones.
Social Media is a Brave New World and we need to be guiding our children through it.
The girls in Sales book described sending nude pictures to boys the barely knew, and the boys in turn sharing these with friends or using these as blackmail. They talked about kids using social media as a weapon, going through and “unliking” photos and posts as a way to control them socially. The girls talked about being threatened and bullied online. The girls described boys who they barely knew texting them and asking for sex. They talked about posting a photo and checking it constantly to see who “liked” it and who commented. They talked about being hurt and crying because certain people unfollowed them or didn’t comment on their photos. Girls (some of whom were virgins) were slut-shamed over pictures they posted or a refusal to have sex with boys.
No, the issues of sex, bullying and slut-shaming aren’t new. What is new is the access to 24/7 social media. This is a world most parents know nothing about.
Current research shows:
In my opinion this information cannot be ignored. We were a screen-free family for years. While that is no longer possible for us (I run my business on a computer, after all, and our kids have to have it for research for school) you can bet we limit and monitor its usage. We will also specifically limit the social media our teens are allowed to consume.
When Adalia (now 20) turned 13 we let her have a Facebook account. We owned one computer at the time that was hooked up to the modem in the dining room (no wi-fi). We monitored it closely. Soon Keziah had Facebook, then Judah, Tilly, Enoch, Kalina and Jubilee as they each turned 13. And it is getting harder and harder to monitor everyone’s usage.
I think anyone with any social media knows it can be a mindless distraction. Just as I used to flip through the channels as a kid looking for something to watch, I see my teens scrolling through Facebook or YouTube mindlessly. When Chuck and I noticed this, we quickly put more limits on the teens. We used to be strict about 30 minutes a day on the computer. But sometimes school work takes more than 30 minutes on the computer, and there are at times good reasons to be on longer…My kids like to Skype their friends from Teen Missions and chat with friends who don’t live nearby.
Earlier this year we invested in Circle with Disney and got wi-fi for the first time. You can read my thorough review here, but one of my favorite aspects is being able to limit any device the hooks up to our wi-fi and setting time limits. When one of my kids’ friends walks in the house I get a notification on my phone and immediately set filters on the device. No, I don’t feel bad about it and no I won’t stop doing it.
[As a rule of thumb, I set the filter level of other kids to the same level as mine…for instance, if Tucker’s friend hooks up to wi-fi, I will set the same filter level as I have for Tucker. If Enoch’s friends come over, I set the same filter level as Enoch has.]
I am not naive. Believe me, I know I cannot control what my kids see when they are outside of our home, but you can bet I will monitor what I goes on in my house. Yes, I know there are ways to get around these devices and hack into them. There are also ways to break into my van, but that doesn’t stop me from locking the doors.
Our goals are to protect our children from becoming addicted to screens and social social, to teach them reasonable limits and to make our home a safe place to be.
Here are our current social media rules:
Our children do not have smart phones. Our teens who need cell phones are given flip phones. This allows them to make phone calls and not much else. No texting, no videos, no internet access.
[Tilly has an iPod touch, but she is 18 and it still has a bedtime and filters. Kalina also has an iPod touch with even more filters and a limit of one online hour per day]
Our teens have Facebook that we monitor. We don’t go and read every conversation they have, but the policy is we can access their account at any time.
Kalina and Tilly both have Twitter. Kalina mainly shares poems she has written and things he has mis-heard on her hilarious DeafGirlSpeaks account.
Hezekiah (12) and Tucker (10) both have email but not social media. Yes, I am a firm believer in no social media accounts until kids are old enough (i.e thirteen for Facebook).
Every device in our house has a bedtime controlled by Circle, meaning the internet cannot be accessed once it goes to sleep.
What kind of social media rules do you have in your house? How does it compare to their friends?
To be continued…next week I will specifically address the topic of pornography.