You can go almost anywhere online and read the TERRORS and HORRIFYING stories about kids on social media.
There is BULLYING.
Kids are SEXTING.
Other children are talking to PREDATORS.
Guys, this is pretty scary. And very real.
It's also super sensational. Because SENSATIONAL NEWS SELLS.
Nobody clicks on an article that says, "Here are some interesting things normal kids are doing right now online."
There is no sense of URGENCY. No dramatic call to ACT.
But you can bet your bottom dollar that an article that says, "PRETEENS are in serious DANGER from a device YOU bought them!" that people would click. Often. Out of FEAR and CURIOSITY.
And yes, I am intentionally writing all of these words in all caps because I want you to FEEL it. Do you feel it?
Imagine you have a car. It's a couple of years old and you are just starting to get comfortable in it. Your glove box is full of all the right records, your extra pair of sunglasses, the first aid kit (finally!), and a small bag of snacks for emergencies. You have figured out the perfect distance of seat-to-driving wheel. It's just working great.
But guess what? It's super dirty. There are smashed goldfish in the cup holders, half-used water bottles under all of the seats, footprints on the backs of the seats, random papers everywhere, and the outside has dirt, dust... and is that SAP on the hood? Oh boy. What a mess.
Guess your only option is to throw the car away. Just toss it out and get a new one. Don't trade it in. Don't sell it. Just bring it to the dump and throw it out. You should be walking more, anyway. Get a bike, why dontcha?
It's dirty. And it probably needs an oil change and maybe some more wiper fluid. TOO HARD!
Throw it out and tell everyone else to start walking, too. Because WHO KNEW THAT CARS GOT DIRTY AND NEEDED WORK? No thanks, you did not sign up for that.
Is my analogy sinking in yet? Is it clear that I am equating throwing out a really great car because #dirty and #hard and #potentiallydangerousanyway with kids and social media (and YOU and social media)?
But, but, but... someone has told me some super scary stories about kids on social media. I don't even want it in my house.
I get you, girl. More than you know. Guess what else is scary? Freaking cars. They are legitimately TERRIFYING when you think about it? We are all just driving these machines around willy nilly, hoping we don't crash into each other and literally DIE. Then we let our kids drive them, too. WHAT ARE WE THINKING?
Let's all walk. Throw out the cars and walk, you guys. That's the only logical decision here.
Who is with me?
Anna, you're crazy. Cars are necessary. Smart devices and social media are not.
Sure. But maybe...
Cars were seen as a public nuisance and "epidemic disease" in the early 1900s. Many people decided that they would never adapt to cars, so they used their horse and buggies, bicycles, or walked (but guess how many pedestrians died by being hit by cars in the early 1900s?? A lot!).
From America on the Move: "In the 1910s, speeding, reckless driving, collisions, and pedestrian fatalities were new problems requiring new solutions. The first remedies comprised a social response focused on controlling and improving driver behavior."
New problems require new solutions.
Controlling and improving behavior.
Not "THROW OUT ALL OF THE CARS AND BACK TO HORSES WITH YE."
The virtual world is a lot like the physical world. It is important to be educated and aware. To make improvements. To help our children succeed. We can prevent many accidents and collisions with proper solutions.
College admissions are looking at their applicants online. A dean of admissions at a law school told me how they look at the application, and then look online for the applicant. Too much posting, anger, bickering, cursing, drug references, partying, etc were RED FLAGS.
But guess what else was a RED FLAG?
Not having a presence at all or having a questionably small presence. Do these students not realize that networking, communication, research, and community happen online? How can they expect to know if this applicant is well-adjusted, well-intended, and well... ready for a world where people are online?
This is not always the case, but it is an interesting notion.
I've also known teenagers who hang out at certain homes to get on their "private" social media accounts because their parents won't let them have one. I have seen kids glued to their screens with no sense of the world around them.
It isn't all or nothing.
All of this is pointless if we are going to just hand our young children a car and say, "Good luck, little Billy. Drive safe and follow the laws of the road!" Little Billy is 11. He can barely see over the wheel. And nobody ever told him about the laws of the road.
You wouldn't do it for a car. Don't do it for a smart device or social media. Plan with your kids. Have a dialogue. Teach them the laws of the virtual road and WHY they are there. Learn the laws yourself. Check in regularly. Sign a contract. Do ALL OF THE THINGS.
This is why I wrote the Family Social Guide. It's laid out for you. It's easy... well, it's still work, but it's a lot easier.
How do you talk about bullying, harassment, predators, age requirements, privacy, pornography, depression, third-party ISPs, COPPA, positive experiences, controlling your feed, and enjoying social media in an informative, but light-hearted way?
But even if you don't want my guide, you still have the power to HELP YOUR KIDS SUCCEED in a virtual world. You don't have to throw it all out because it is scary. That doesn't make cars go away.
Make a plan. Start talking. Get informed.
Don't be scared. Be empowered.
Don't throw your car away. Clean it. Get some air in the tires and an oil change. And then brush up on the rules of car etiquette and safety with your kids. Same goes for social media and smart devices.
You're good to go!
(This guide is for parents and kids age 10 and up.
I am currently working on a guide for those with children under 10. But trust me when I tell you that there is a lot of content for parents in this older guide that you will want to know for yourself and to start preparing your little kids. I have conversations with my eight-year-old with some of the topics in this guide.)