Do you have an Instagram account? Is it filled with selfies, pictures of you partying with friends, inspirational messages, and clever hashtags? Do you have loads of followers and regularly get tons of “likes” and supportive messages? Are you a regular Facebook poster, frequently sending messages about the latest trip, party, or source of political outrage?
Or do you have no clue as to how to get an Instagram account or to do with it? When your son’s (or friend’s) conversations include the words “Snapchat”, or “Instagram Story”, do you automatically tune out?
Here at GCP I’m particularly interested in how parents are participating in this brave new technological world, and how you are talking with your children about the do’s and don’ts of social media postings. As I see it, parents who are total social media fans, posting at every turn, are “peacocks”. These peacocks are strutting their stuff on the internet for all to see and admire. On the other side of the spectrum are the “ostriches” who have buried their heads in the sand and have no interest in learning about any of these new fangled things. There are issues to consider on either end of this spectrum. Where do you fall?
If you are a peacock, you are probably up on the latest social media sites, and can easily have conversations with your son about what he is seeing and doing on these sites, which is important and good to do. But you should be mindful of your son’s (and daughter’s) access to your pics and postings. No judgment on how you handle your own social media, but it is important that you take the time to focus on the social media role model you are presenting to your children. The rules that you follow for your own postings may not be the same rules you want them to follow.
Things to think about: how much of your personal life is posted for everyone to see? If you are often posting pictures of yourself in exotic places or partying with celebrities, are you suggesting to your son that it is fine for him to do this (or aspire to do this) as well? Your adult friends viewing your posts are likely to be excited for you and not feel left out, but your son’s middle or high school classmates may not be mature enough to feel this way. Talk with your son about the rules you want him to follow, and if necessary, explain that your rules may be a bit different.
On the other hand, if you are an ostrich, and have had absolutely no interest in trying to understand these social media sites and how they work, it is time to take your head out of the sand and deal with this. If not for your own sake, then definitely for your child’s sake. Social media is a phenomenon that is here to stay, it is going to be a part of your child’s life, and he needs you to be mindful of how he uses it. As Aija Mayrock, author of “The Survival Guide to Bullying: Written by a Teen” explains, “Social media is social currency for young people. It is a portal to potential and possibilities…” It helps people connect and bond over common interests. It can be a powerful support network. It can be a force for good. Whatever it is, you have to pay attention to it and learn about it so you can help your child navigate through it.
And it definitely requires navigational guidance. Whether you are a peacock or an ostrich you should know that people can say and show the craziest and most inappropriate things on their social media account. Some of these accounts are open to the public, and you need to have a sense of what your son is seeing and reacting to on these sites. He needs guidance on how much personal information he should reveal, he needs to be reminded that nothing he posts on the internet ever goes away, and he needs to know that all sorts of authority figures can have access to his sites, including admissions officers and prospective employers. Do you follow your son on his social media sites? In my family we all friend and follow each other, and as a parent I highly recommend this. But even if you choose not to have access to his sites you must have the ability to talk with him about being responsible on social media, and you can’t do that if you have no idea what he is doing on it.
The first step is to figure out where you are on the ostrich/peacock spectrum. (I’m in-between;I know about and follow a lot of social media, but am not a frequent sharer.) If you are more of an ostrich, you’ve got some real work to do. Check out Common Sense Media, which offers a helpful guide to the various social media sites. Talk with your children about the sites they like, ask them for help in getting smart. If you have more peacock tendencies, think about the messages you are sending (the impressions, not just the captions) and whether you’d be comfortable if your children’s post mimic your own.
This is a rich parenting topic, one which we should all be thinking about and to which GCP will continue to return. I would love to know where you are on this peacock/ostrich spectrum, and how you talk to your sons and daughters about their social media use. All comments are welcome!
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An earlier version of this post ran on GCP in 2015. This is an updated and expanded post.