It can all get too much sometimes. Especially when your seven-year-old turns to you one day and asks for a phone! Not just any phone, a very specific model of a very specific brand. These kids know their stuff. If not a phone, then some other gadget or device where they will have access to the infinitely big and sometimes scary cyber world. You’ve got too much on your plate – playdates, birthdays, homework and now, you can add social media to that list.
The reality is that the internet and the cyber world is their reality. It’s all around them, it has become instinctive and second nature to them – the Swipe Generation. Technology moves so fast that by the time we figure out how to use one platform or another, our kids have moved on to something else.
Every parent will differ in their opinion on when to get their children a phone or a tablet. It is at the parent’s discretion, and most if not all, are aware of the upsides and downsides of these gadgets.
The convenience of the technology is undeniable and most parents are fearful that if their children aren’t exposed to it then they won’t be able to keep up with it and that it would be a disadvantage among their peers. Some primary schools are already introducing BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) at the age of eight or nine, while some schools have tablets for the children to use in foundation stages at the ages of three and four. Yes, it is very much their reality.
There are several aspects to technology and children; how long they should spend on gadgets, what are the long-term effects on their brain development and their behaviours and let’s not forget that social media remains at the centre of the issue.
- How old should children be to get onto social media?
- Which social media platforms should they be on?
- Are they safe on social media? Should we spy on them?
Digital Strategist Zafer Younis, an ex-Dubai resident now based in San Francisco says, “I feel bad for parents in this day and age – not only do they have to worry about strangers in the real world but there is a whole lot of strangers to worry about now in the cyber world!”
The key, he believes to coping with the potential damage of social media and online activity is to expose children to the parent’s own social media at a young age and go through what is acceptable and reasonable to post, and what is silly, petty and mean.
The exercise opens a dialogue between you and your child. Needless to say, when you are open with your child about your activities in the cyber world, they will grow up feeling that it’s natural to share their cyber world with you. Opening the dialogue at a younger age – as young as six or seven – gives you the chance to teach them what to expect, how to protect themselves, how to cope with the pressures of social media and how to control their time on it.
Spying on your kids, Younis believes is not a realistic option – “By the time you figure out a platform, they have already moved on to another one, or some kids have accounts you don’t know about that they are active on. The answer isn’t to spy on your kids, the answer is to teach them how to behave in the cyber world. Just like you teach them manners in a restaurant and at home, you have to teach them manners in the cyber world.”
Exposing your kids to real-life stories about how social media affected other kids’ lives also makes them more aware and hopefully more cautious. As an option as well, you can show them how social media can be used for good – maybe for raising awareness about bullying, charity, the environment and other relevant issues.
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