While this is an extensive topic, with loads of opinions on the matter, I have attempted to put together a few key tips for parents trying to navigate the social media waters.
Continued dialog with your kids is critical. Show them you are interested and as they get older, don’t shy away from bringing up challenging issues like sexting, pornography, and cyberbullying. Of course, those things can be embarrassing for you and your child, but you’ll both benefit from the open and real conversations. Your communication with your child doesn’t stop there though.
Privacy settings on most social networking sites are available so that you and your child can choose who can see their posts and comment. Depending on their age, it’s generally recommended that kids keep their privacy settings to friends only.
Use safe settings on all mobile devices but be aware that if your child is accessing the internet using public WiFi, filters to block inappropriate content may not be active. Some outlets, like McDonald’s, are part of family-friendly WiFi schemes so look out for Mumsnet Family Friendly WiFi and RDI Friendly WiFi symbols when you’re out and about.
Talk to your kids about respecting others and how important it is especially on public platforms. Ask them to reflect on how they would feel if that comment was made on one of their posts. Encourage high self-esteem in your kids – they will pass it on! Talk about online reputation. Remind them frequently that anything they post could stay around forever online. Encourage them to only do things online that they wouldn’t mind you, their teachers, their grandparents, and even future employers seeing. Creating a positive digital footprint is vital in today’s world.
Give them trust. Give them boundaries and expect them to follow them. This can apply to screen time, downloads, sites they visit, etc. Of course, if they break that trust then boundaries need to be scaled back and supervision put into place until they can regain that trust. Contact interaction is key.
Remind them how important it is not to give in to peer pressure to send inappropriate comments or images. Show them options available to them such as the Send this instead and Zipit apps which will help them deal with requests that make them uncomfortable.
You should plan on constant interactions with your child. All of these dangers and problem areas we’ve discussed need to be out in the open and exposed. Talk about how we are to treat others, how we need to have daily screen time limits, prioritizing your time, etc. We can dramatically deflate the power of the negative impacts of social media by being aware of them!
APPENDIX: PLATFORMS 101
It can be difficult for us as parents to keep up with the ever-evolving trends and platforms. I highly recommend getting every platform that your kids have. At the very least, become familiar with them and their differences. Here’s a brief low-down:
Founded in 2004, this is the OG of social media, and it’s still ranking #1 in the SMP (Social Media Platform) world. This bit of news is shocking to me, I feel like Facebook has always been around! It’s younger than my youngest daughter.
Facebook is the most volatile platform, in my mind. People rant and rave, often using way too many CAPS in their posts. The Facebook Marketplace is a very popular way for people to sell their crap to their neighbors, making the garage sale all buy extinct. There is a myriad of interest groups and boards to be a part of. Facebook Live offers live video streaming as well. Facebook is used by businesses and advertisers alike to engage customers. The age for Facebook users is generally college-age and older. Posts are shared among friends and friends of friends or the general public, all depending on your privacy settings
It’s called a microblogging platform, and it’s been around almost as long as Facebook, founded in 2006. It’s a much more public platform, with character limits to your posts. Hashtags provide ways for followers to see content that interests them and stay up on the latest trends. It’s is fast-paced, with trending topics changing by the hour. GIFs and videos are popular in Twitter posts. Generally, kids start getting in on the Twittersphere around High School age.
Instagram is a visually based photo and video sharing platform, which encourages creativity. Followers can post comments on pictures. Users can add hashtags and captions to their posts, allowing for trends, as in Twitter. This is where the influencer was created and still thrives. Stories are more temporary posts, that disappear after a day. Advertisements can look exactly the same as “real” posts and appear in your feed and stories along with everything else.
One thing that cannot be added to posts is a link. Users can have one link in their profile description. This is a popular platform for high school and college kids.
Snapchat is for living in the moment, according to their own description of the app. Users take pictures and apply filters and comments drawn onto the picture. They are sent to friends (they disappear after being viewed) or added to your story, which disappears after a day. The Snap Map shows the location of all of your friends, which is a popular way for kids to keep track of each other’s locations. Streaks are kept when you send at least one picture a day back and forth between other users.
TikTok is relatively new and has been in the news recently, even becoming a part of the 2020 election campaigns. It’s a highly addictive platform where people post 30-second videos. Once a video catches on, it can go “viral” overnight, capturing millions of views. People gain followers and continue to post, becoming “TikTok famous.” It’s highly political and opinionated, with an equal dose of comedy. Beware, you will waste hours and not even realize what just happened.
These platforms are ever-changing. There are so many more. You can google them to get an idea of purpose and audience demographics:
I know, I do sincerely apologize to the many wonderful women in our world named Karen. But the term has come to represent the people (mostly on social media platforms, but also in real life) who always have something to say, a criticism to dole out, a point to die on. And social media makes it oh so easy for those personalities to reign free.
The worst is the Ring app. Everyone is named “Neighbor 99” and their location is estimated. It’s the purest form of anonymity. And people are horrible. Truly awful in their snide comments, sarcastic shakedowns, and attacks on people’s intelligence, common sense, and decency.
We recently had a driver cut through our corner lot in the middle of the night, leaving deep tire marks across our beautifully maintained grass. I shared the video on the Ring app, thinking another neighbor may have captured other footage of an obviously drunk driver at 2 am. The attacks I received! I was called “petty” and told “no harm no foul” and reminded that people have so many more problems than that in this world. I was made to feel so small – and the anger I felt as a result was palpable.
Follow a Twitter feed or a controversial post on Facebook any day of the week, and you will see examples of this behavior. Social media is making people assholes. Is that a result of their addiction?
Addiction is an inherently selfish situation. Their daily actions begin to revolve around their addictions. They become anxious, nervous, focused on the next hit to feed their needs. They lose sight of the needs of others around them. Their tunnel vision focuses only on the thing they need, disregarding all other costs and consequences of their actions.
You know the feeling. You get into a little tiff and post a controversial comment. How often do you go back and check for a response? Does it consume your every thought? How do your emotions spike after you receive a response? Do you throw your phone, let out a little yell, pace around the house ranting? We don’t react that way in person. At least we aren’t supposed to…
The lack of immediate, face to face, responses has a couple of effects. First, you don’t have to deal with the conflict face to face. You can’t see the hurt and alarm in the face of your victim. Second, you have more time to simmer and fume in between interactions. Third, you can go offline and get “encouragement” or fuel to your fire from your friends. You send screenshots of the conversation. “Can you believe he SAID that? What should I say back?” We get caught up in the wittiness and creativity of our response, we neglect to consider the impact on the other person’s feelings and emotions.
Here’s a little exercise:
Evaluate the situations in your daily life when you are the kindest version of yourself. When do you react out of the interest of others before your own? That can have a very telling impact on how you are being influenced by external forces such as social media.
Before our offices were shut down for COVID, I would walk around checking in on our employees and getting updates on their lives. After one such occasion, a younger girl I've come to connect with said "I'm going to call them Alisa's tips - I'll be expecting a new one every day!"
So, here is my first tidbit I've learned over my nearly 50 years of life, moving often, raising four kids and two dogs and running several businesses.
2 Drinks and a Benadryl Make for the Perfect Flight
That's pretty much it. I used to hate the discomfort, noise, boredom and exhaustion that inevitably comes from flying. The stress of not being able to relax, having strangers all around me, hearing crying babies and grumpy toddlers express their frustrations, left me stressed out and anxious.
But then my husband's job took him to living on the east coast 9 months out of the year, and one of my sons went to play college ball in Kentucky, and I found myself taking 3-plus hour flights almost bi-weekly. I had to be able to enjoy my visit and return refreshed, often landing on Monday morning and heading straight to work. So I can't afford to be sleep deprived on my return.
So here's my recipe for a perfect long flight.
Disclaimer: This really only works on the way out, I am not recommending 2 drinks and a Benadryl before you have to put in a full day's work. I've found if I arrive rested I am perfectly fine working or doing other things (and not sleeping) on my flight home.
Give it a try! You might even find yourself looking forward to the break that flying can afford.
YOU ARE NOT IN CONTROL OF YOUR OWN FEELINGS!
All of a sudden, in the last 5 years or so, every single person you know has their phone on them at all times. We don’t even carry them in our pockets or purses. Nope, they are in our hands. Always. We have them connected to our Bluetooth in our cars, and our smart speakers in our homes, allowing for contact tracking of our every move.
By now, we’ve all done experienced the results of talking about a certain product for which advertisements then magically start to appear in our social feeds. “Hmm…” we think, “That’s crazy, we were just talking about this yesterday!” SMH. If you haven’t tried this yet, do it now! Talk about something you have never looked up before and watch what happens. (I’ve always wanted a macaw from Costa Rica, for example.) Watch the advertisements for bird feed flood your platforms within a day.
Did you also know that the platform bots are also able to identify our wants and desires with just a picture? My sister sent a picture (screenshot) of a product to me and didn’t mention the name of the product, or even what it does, and voila – I’m being sold that same product on Instagram. I had never seen it before in my life, and now it’s being pushed at me from every direction. Gotta take advantage of the first few hours of interest, I imagine.
So are we now collectively a social experiment? Are we being hypnotized and even controlled by invisible outside forces that actually know more about us than we do? What sort of returns are the social media conglomerates getting from their extensive, highly intuitive algorithms? What type of videos are you drawn to? Which ads do you linger on, even if you don’t physically click anything? We can only assume these conclusions go all the way to how you will vote in the next election. I’m guessing there are some power-hungry politicians, with deep pockets willing to pay dearly for this data.
What about our moods? Advertisers can even detect when you are feeling anxious, or lonely, happy, or confident. They are ready to pounce on our vulnerabilities and offer what can only be seen as the solution to our current problems. Can we even call that advertising, really? Is it manipulation? Control? What about actual spying?
What can we learn from the study of behaviorism here? Are we behaving like well-trained dogs or even lab rats? How far does it go? Behaviorists have long known that you can train someone using behaviorist techniques, without that person even knowing it. There’s a scene from the “Office” where Jim is giving Dwight a mint every time he hears a certain sound on his computer. Dwight starts putting his hand out when he hears the sound, without having any idea why he’s behaving this way.
So how big of a deal is this social media situation? And once we establish that, what is the burden we have to protect our kids? It’s become standardized normal behavior. Are we ready to allow ourselves to be manipulated in ways we don’t even understand?
Does anyone care?
How do the people benefitting from these targeting practices feel about their actions? Let’s look at what Sean Parker, the first president of Facebook, had to say:
We need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever… It’s social-validation feedback loop…exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology… The inventors, creators – it’s me, it’s Mark, it’s Kevin Systrom on Instagram, it’s all of these people – understood this consciously. And we did it anyway…it literally changes your relationship with society, with each other…It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains. 
Did you catch all of that? Our children’s brains are at stake! They don’t care what the effects are, they are plowing through their consciences for the big payoff. Chamath Palihapitiya, who is the former vice president of user growth at Facebook, has the following lament:
The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback looks we’ve created are destroying how society works… No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth. This is a global problem…I feel tremendous guilt. I think we all knew in the back of our minds – even though we feigned this whole line of, like, there probably aren’t any bad unintended consequences. I think in the back, deep, deep recesses of, we kind of knew something bad could happen… So we are in a really bad state of affairs right now, in my opinion. It is eroding the core foundation of how people behave by and between each other. And I don’t have a good solution. My solution is I just don’t use these tools anymore. I haven’t for years.
YEP, YOU READ THAT RIGHT. THE FOUNDERS OF SOCIAL MEDIA ARE NOT ON SOCIAL MEDIA. THEY KNOW BETTER.
So do we have options? Are they good options? Are they realistic? As a parent, I feel it relates a bit to the homeschooling movement in the 80s and 90s. Do we have to go so far as to eliminate social media from our lives? How does that affect how our kids are able to socialize? Is that damage of isolation worse than the damage of social media itself?
Social Media companies seem to finally be trying to fix some of these situations that have come to pass at their doing. But is it just eyewash? Are they doing enough? What more can be done?
Our first step is to open our eyes to the problem at hand.
I have always loved to write. Over the years I've put my thoughts, experiences and opinions on paper. Some of these posts are old and some are new.