Fifteen years ago the phrase social media didn’t exist. Back in the day people called their friends on the phone, visited them in person or wrote letters. Today you can turn on your phone and be in contact with hundreds of friends, acquaintances, and strangers. Contact is relative, however. I find that if I dive too deep into social media I am left feeling discontent and slightly jealous. We put our best foot forward on social media and leave out all the undesirables, but my facebook or twitter feeds still manage to make me feel as though I’m lazy, boring and living an unexciting life. That is a deception, see, because I love my life, my children and this phase.
So, as our children grow up in an age where they can network and connect with others without seeing them face to face, and as we (if you’re a stay at home mom) are constantly bombarded with media images we use to pass our time, how can we teach our children a good balance?
1) Don’t spend more time with your phone and laptop than you do with your friends. Kids need to see healthy friendships that go through the good times, the bad times and the fun times. If you are regularly with your friends (and perhaps their children too) then you can use that as an opportunity to teach your children many things. Talking, praying together, supporting one another are all vital functions of friendship. While these things can happen online, I have found the internet to simply be an extension or a conduit for communication of my already pre-existing friendships. Sure, people make lifelong friends online and some even meet their spouse. However, that still has the friendship being one of face-to-face interaction and not simply liking someone’s Facebook status.
2) Teach children that it’s okay to be “off the radar” ever once in a while and that we needn’t be available 24/7 just because technology affords us that capability. When we are attached to our phone (see what I think about that in my article entitled Are your Children Jealous of your Smartphone?) we give our children the message that we’re always available, at least by phone. Do we jump and run like the house is on fire when our phone rings, gets a text or an alert? I think we, as mothers, should model to our children our priorities. We should be willing to go off the radar. Turn off our phones, stop checking our favorite social media sites and pinterest and just be and relax with our kids. If we are always available to our phone but not active and emotionally available to our children they will not learn how to form healthy relationships. They need to see us interacting with people regularly and in a healthy way for them to best learn.
3) Use social media and the world wide web (I am so old-fashioned, I know) to give your children opportunities to truly connect, not just look at all your friends’ pictures of their beach vacation. The internet is full of ways in which we can connect with others. Why not find a pen pal site where your child can write letters to someone somewhere in the world? Do you sponsor a child through an organization like Compassion or World Vision? Take your children to those sites and show them pictures, read them stories, and let them see what good your family is doing for others. Have them get on and help you write emails to family and friends. Instead of just purposelessly surfing the web day in and day out, make it a meaningful way for your child to grow.
I believe social media is great. I also believe it is a major distraction. If we can have a good balance and teach our children the right balance then it can be a healthy way to reach out to others. A healthy way to forgive friendships and networks. If we drive ourselves to distraction and drive our kids to jealousy with our incessant facebook, twitter, and instagram checking, then we are not setting good examples of how to use things like social media to our advantage, instead of using them to our detriment.