Can You Find a Way to Say "YES"?
Your 10 year old child asks “can I have an Instagram account?” and for most parents, their first inclination is to say “no, not yet”. While as parents we need to be aware and vigilant about our kids’ digital footprints, we also need to understand that joining social networks today for tweens and teens is akin to hanging out at the mall or on the playground 30 years ago. It’s where the kids are and it’s where kids socialize, whether we like it or not.
I like to tell parents to use the word "no" judiciously and when it’s necessary but don’t make it your “go to” response for whatever your kids ask to do. As every experienced parent will tell you – pick your battles wisely. Say "yes" when you can. Before you even answer a yes/no question – ask yourself “can I find a way to say yes?” Of course there may need to be conditions attached to your yes but often, finding a way to say it when we can makes the times we say no a bit easier to enforce and easier for kids to understand that when we say it, we say it for a reason and not just because we want to spoil their fun.
When it comes to social media and kids, it is not uncommon for kids to go around their parents when they say no and set up accounts on friends’ devices that their parents don’t know about. Better to initiate a dialogue about social media when your child asks for an account. Make sure they understand your rules, expectations and consequences related to breaking the rules and then after you feel they are old enough to understand your concerns and follow your rules, set the accounts up with your child so you can make sure that privacy settings are in place and that you have their usernames and passwords.
Children need to understand that just as their parents are responsible for their lives offline, they are also responsible for their lives online and in order to protect them (just as they protect them by putting a roof over their heads), they need to be able to access their online lives just as we need to be able to enter their bedrooms and scoop them up if there was a fire in the house. In order to do that, they need to know their usernames and passwords for their online accounts.
Having this information does not and should not give parents carte blanche to cyber-stalk their kids. If you have a child you suspect has a serious problem (depression, anxiety, substance abuse, etc.) then you need to be much more vigilant regarding their online world, but if you have a child who is seemingly well-adjusted and doesn’t give you reason to worry, I recommend checking in once or twice a week to make sure that they aren’t making any catastrophic mistakes and are conducting themselves online according to the rules you’ve set up with them. If you do see a catastrophic mistake, let them know IN PERSON (don’t make a comment online about the post or photo) and discuss why you consider it a serious problem as well as ways to remedy the situation. Think of it as a teachable moment and hopefully, your child won’t make a similar mistake in the future.
Saying yes goes against our better judgment and nature in many parenting situations but remember, that saying yes can also be a great opportunity to teach your child skills they need to learn to grow up.