Social media is an integral part of modern life. Maybe, like many parents, you chronicle your family’s adventures on Facebook or share vacation pictures on Instagram. It’s all normal and perfectly harmless – until your kids ask for their own social media accounts. Then, navigating this new digital world becomes much more difficult.
The fact is, young people today use social media to connect with their peers, pursue hobbies like art and music, and even to learn about major social issues and current events; when used appropriately it can be a useful tool and part of a healthy social life. Problems only arise when our kids use these sites without guidance and education. That’s why, as fathers, one of the most important things we can do is to act as social media mentors.
Use Your Discretion
Of all the steps you can take to help your children responsibly navigate social media, one of the most important ones is to model discretion in your own online behavior. For example, when you post pictures of your kids online, do you ask them for permission first? Teaching your children that they have control over how they’re represented online and that these are serious decisions.
As your children begin sharing their own content, it’s also important to teach them how to make these decisions themselves. Encourage them to ask three questions before they post anything online:
- Would you say that in person?
- Is that picture/information yours to share?
- How would you feel if your grandmother saw this?
These questions give your children the tools they need to make smart choices, even when you aren’t looking over their shoulder.
Talk Tech Anxiety
In addition to teaching our children about what they should post online, it’s also important that we talk about how social media content makes us feel. This is vital because our children’s brains are very malleable and spending a lot of time online can lead to internet addiction, a compulsive need to be online that is linked with increased depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and loneliness. Those feelings tend to be directly related to what our kids see online, and the difficulty young people have differentiating reality from carefully cultivated online personas.
When you’re looking at social media posts with your children, encourage them to look at an individual’s collective posts and ask them what kind of stories those images tell. Often the images we share on social media reflect only the good things in life, and viewing others’ curated lives can lead to self-doubt. By helping your children develop an understanding of this curation process, you can help them differentiate between reality and selective self-representation.
Be Body Positive
Finally, though your children may primarily follow their friends on social media, most will also follow various celebrities and popular personalities, and if there’s one trait popular accounts all have in common, it’s that they portray very limited body types. In a culture that values thin bodies above others, you can use social media to teach your children about body positivity.
Talk about who isn’t pictured on these popular accounts and why that is and look together for other accounts that represent a greater diversity of body types. There are great body positive advocates and size-inclusive campaigns on social media, but you may need to look around to find them.
When we model smart social media behaviors, we learn how to use these sites responsibly. And when we speak openly about our online lives, we have the opportunity have important conversations about how social media can cause harm to our own reputations, to others feelings, and to our own self-confidence. Social media may be a part of how we connect with each other today, but that doesn’t mean everything our kids see online reflects real life. It’s a hard lesson and one all young people today need to learn – with help from their parents.