Thursday, 16 February 2017

Children need parents, not adult 'friends'.

Children need parents, not adult ‘friends’.

Children feel stress in many areas of their lives. At school they often worry about homework, peer pressure and the need to get good grades so that they can reach the next stage of their education. Kids feel pressures at home with chores, finding a quiet studying space, parental issues and sibling battles. There are also time demands for after school programming and sports responsibilities.  All these types of stress are normal parts of developing into responsible and accomplished members of our society.

What is new to this generation is that kids are also feeling stress due to social media. They feel that their phones have control over them. According to The Daily Mail, 59% of children are using social media by the age of 10. 21% had posted negative comments and 26% had ‘hijacked’ another person’s account and posted without permission. Looking at other statistics, 43% had messaged strangers starting at the average age of 12.  According to Guard Child, 43% of teens say they would change their online behaviour if they knew that their parents were watching them.

Kids are consumed with social media.  They post and want to see how their messages are being received. They are often concerned with how many likes they are receiving and how many new followers they are getting. They need to keep their Snapchat streaks maintained to gain new stickers and virtual rewards. Facebook and Instagram now have Live Chats. Not only is this disruptive to teachers when their students are  engaged with social media in the classroom, other children are being included who are either unaware that this happening or have not approved it. These victims of social media now feel that they have to be camera ready at all times in case they are caught in the background.

On top of the cyber-bulling and sexting worries, kids now have demands of their fan base. Some are moving from ‘content creators’ to ‘influencers’. With a fan base from 10,000 and 1,000 likes per photo, many children are being approached by big companies to be brand influencers.  This may happen organically, with many posts featuring a specific brand but sometimes it happens through hard work using directing, writing, editing and agents to gain subscribers. Companies will send an email then a gift of free products to be featured in the next blog or Instagram feed (Earning money as a Brand Ambassador). Monster reports that there is no harm.  I question that, especially when young kids are being approached with free gift certificates and a clothing allowance to do things that are commercially oriented. Parents may or may not be aware of this happening.

It is so important that parents play an active role in their child’s life and not try so hard to be their friend. Kristina Kuzmic is a Mother YouTube blogger who has got it right. She states quite clearly that your children do not need more friends. They need parents. She says that the number one job is to love them and loving them means to help guide them in becoming responsible adults. Until they are adults, you are the authority and you are not on the same level. If your kids like you 100% she says ‘you are probably failing as a parent’.

 Harsh but true.

Here are some parenting ideas to help your children enjoy their social media experience:

1)    Until your children have earned the right for privacy, keep the computer in a local area (kitchen or den) so that you can look over their shoulder and see what they are posting, watching and who they are talking to.
2)    Give kids time limits – they often cannot self-regulate.
3)    Just like in the real world, get to know where your child spends his/her time and know who their friends are.
4)    Create family rules with the same consequences if they break those rules in the real world—do not talk to strangers.  Do not give out your address or phone number to people you don’t know.
5)    Set privacy settings.
6)    Explain that every post stays there forever and is a future job interview.
7)    Follow your kids on line to see what they are posting.
8)    Be a good role model yourself (and if you are not on social media, get your kids to teach you.  It can be a great bonding experience).
9)    Surround yourself with people you know and who support you and lift your spirits.
10) Golden Rule:  Treat people the way you want to be treated.

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Thursday, 2 February 2017

Social Media and Middle School

Most kids get their first phone before they’ve reached grade 7.  Usually they get it for the ‘phone’ aspect of the device so they can let their parents or caregivers know that they’ve arrived at school safely or so that they can make arrangements for an after school pick up or a play date with a friend.  The cell phone used to be a communication device for safety but in today’s world, it has become so much more.

Today, it is rare to find a phone that is just a phone.  Kids are still using their devices for communication, no question, but they are using apps such as Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat.  These apps allows kids to communicate visually with one another to share ideas and express emotions and from time-to-time, touch base with their parents or caregivers.  These platforms allow kids to highlight and share their successes, sense of humour, what they are doing during the day and allows them to form study groups which helps them at school.  If used properly, all of this sounds very positive…doesn’t it?

So why is it if you search the term ‘social media and self-esteem’ in Google, almost every article that comes up reports that self-esteem and self-worth diminish after spending time on social media? Studies show that many adolescents obsess over ‘likes’, ‘followers’, ‘re-tweets’. People tend to compare themselves and their life situations with one another.  They are preoccupied with their social status and whether or not others have seen their posts and what they are saying about them. How Facebook Can Amplify Low Self-Esteem/Narcissism/Anxiety, The Dangerous Relationship Between Social Media and Self-Worth, How Using Social Media Affects Teenagers. Students are not concentrating on their school work because their phones keep chiming and they are curious to see what is happening and who is trying to reach them.  They don’t want to miss a thing.

I have developed and provided workshops to adolescents and adults connecting body image to self-esteem and, by extension, self-esteem to social media.  Through conversations and written reports, I have discovered that although pre-teens and middle school aged children have a healthy and good understanding of social media, they are just beginning to exhibit mentally unhealthy habits. Twelve and thirteen year olds seem to be following healthy feeds and do not care significantly if they have a high number of followers or not.  It does not matter at all if they lose followers or not and they do not compare themselves to their friends.  But when asked why they post what they do the two main reasons were to 1) make others happy and 2) to make others jealous.

It seems that it is at this age that the tables are starting to turn.  Half of the subjects wrote that physical attractiveness plays moderately into how many social media ‘friends’ a person has and though they report that it does not matter to them how many friends they have, almost all when asked ‘Do you think that people with more followers/friends are happier people?’ they reported that they were ‘not sure’.   

If it is true that social media can turn into a negative, competitive and self-loathing experience, we need to reach kids at this age to help them remember to support their friends by pressing ‘like’ and leave positive comments to lift one another’s self-confidence.  It is important to remind them to surround themselves with people who make them smile, laugh and feel good too. This is the correct way to communicate using social media.

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