For better or worse, social media has changed the way we parent. You may not have been able to get a conversation out of your teenager at dinner, but if you check their Facebook page, you can find out if they’re in a relationship. Even if you can’t go to school with them, you can follow them on Twitter, and so long as you keep your message under 140 characters, they may even answer you. Don’t be surprised if one day you check-in on Foursquare to find out that you are no longer the mayor of your household. The rules of the game have changed.
Before you go whining about “kids these days,” put down the CrackBerry and turn the mirror back on yourself, Mom and Dad. Digital communication has changed you as a parent too. Are you always listening to your children? Do you find yourself saying, “Just one second, honey,” so that you can send out a quick email? Parenting with an iPad in your hand may be supervision, but it’s not active parenting.
Here’s ten ways social media has changed parenting:
- Relationship Building (Good)
One of the greatest benefits of social media has been that long lost friends, family, and even complete strangers have formed relationships over the Internet. Since the explosion of text-messaging years ago, people have complained about the lack of inter-personal contact. Sure, people will sit in the same room and text or IM each other instead of turning around and speaking to each other. But, just look at how much our reach and ability to connect with anyone anywhere in the world has been expanded. This takes pen pals to a whole new level.
- Full Disclosure (Bad)
With public and private information so easily accessible, comes more potential danger as well. Social media users must be smart about what they share and with whom they share it. Stranger danger can occur in-person as easily (if not more so) as over the Internet. In addition, exercise a little self-censorship when using social media—because once it’s out there, you can’t ever take it back. Never share private information such as your address, social security number, or even mention plans about when you will be out of town in a social media setting. Those types of things can invite theft. Personal information should also be curtailed—TMI (too much information) is more prevalent than ever. Teachers, community figures, and people in authority positions have been fired for Facebook postings and even pictures that compromised their judgment. Facebook has even been used as evidence in court cases—from child support to insurance fraud. Don’t be an idiot. The world is watching you.
- Groups (Good)
Social media has brought back a sense of community that was lost over the last couple of decades. These days, it is easy to find people that share your interests or dislikes with the click of a “Like” button. Groups of people are organizing and chatting everywhere about world politics, religion, TV shows, and parenting—just to name a few subjects. Single parents, SAHMs, mister-mom’s, and military families can connect and share experiences as tight-knit as the neighbors they see next door while living thousands of miles away from each other.
- Bullying (Bad)
Unfortunately, strength in numbers can be used for evil instead of good. It’s important to educate your child on the affects of cyber-bullying and steer them away from the wrong crowd. It can be tempting not to join in. By the same token, parents need to make sure they have proper cyber safety measures in place for their family, and can recognize some of the signs of cyber bullying before it’s too late. Words can hurt and do enormous damage—even on the computer.
- Self-Promotion (Good)
Businesses, entrepreneurs, bloggers, and thought leaders now all have an open forum to share their ideas and agendas. Social media outlets don’t discriminate. Look at how YouTube has recently turned everyday home videos into overnight sensations. We’d be saying, “Justin Beiber who?” if it weren’t for the viral marketing of social media. Society at large has recognized this exposure is possible and that self-promotion is free to anyone looking to get discovered.
- Celebrities Unfiltered (Good)
Who’d have thought that they’d ever have the chance to chat in live with Ashton Kutcher? Ashton and Demi Moore were Twitter pioneers. This power couple really helped popularize the celebrity following for the social media giant. They let the rest of us into their famous life. Now you (and your kids) can follow a favorite DJ, actress, politician, or model, and they just may give you a shout out. The beauty of social media and Twitter especially, is that the wall between “us and them” has been removed, and that makes us feel good. (For those that don’t find joy in that, you can sit around and wait until they screw up—see Reason #10.)
- Time Suck (Bad)
It’s clear social media has turned us into kings and queens of multi-tasking, but that’s not always a good thing. Watch your child’s basketball game and get off your Twitter. Make a rule that your family will keep technology devices off the table at meal time. The next time you are at work complaining about how tired you are, stop to consider if you stayed up until midnight commenting on your friend’s Facebook pictures. It’s easy, it’s accessible, and it’s mildly entertaining. But, don’t let it take over your life. You’ll miss the really good stuff.
- Fast Information Faster (Good/Bad)
We are all becoming quasi attention-deficient minded thanks this new social communication age. What we used to consider as fast, has quickly been replaced with faster. Dads of the nineties: remember when you had a pager and it was the coolest thing? Then, you had to have the cell phone because your boss had to reach you faster. But, then the cell phone wasn’t fast enough so you had to add text-messaging to your plan. Eventually, the texts even took too long and now you just had to install IM on your dashboard. You are accessible 24/7. Work-life balance is one of the biggest challenges facing parents today. You have to create family time and make it a priority. Schedule it if you have to. On the flip side, we find out world information and news as it breaks. In real time, civilians and reporters caught footage of the tsunami in Japan and posted it online seconds after it was shot. We watched Egypt’s political situation unfold every day. We are truly living in a connected world, despite geography, and that’s remarkable.
- Collective Couch Potatoes (Good/Bad)
Long distance loves can have date night sitting on separate couches in different times zones half way across the world thanks to social media. Skype made that happen. Twitter traffic increases by 30 percent when Glee is on. Fans who are complete strangers log in to chat, cheer, and boo for the new episode as it airs. Heck, some couples who live in the same house comment back and forth with each other using social media. As long as computer-vegging isn’t all you do, a little social media is fine, but don’t get lazy. There are plenty of reasons to keep your usage in check for your family’s health. Make sure you aren’t choosing social media time over going outside for a family walk, or playing in the backyard. Parents set the example. If you ignore your kid for the computer, they will eventually do the same to you. If you aren’t active, your kids probably won’t be active either.
- Major Misinterpretation (Bad)
Drunk posting, typo-filled tweets and other innocent mistakes are delivered in an instant to the universe of no return. Plenty of high-profile folks have had to come back and explain themselves after a post or tweet was misinterpreted—just ask Sarah Palin. Parents are no different. Before you join the #wineparty on Twitter, spout off about your day at the office, or complain about an annoying parent in Little League, think about your reputation. Just because it’s easy to type a quick thought, doesn’t mean you should. Think about what you will say and how you will say it. Your kids, their friends, and other adults you know, just may get the wrong impression.