In today's world of technology, we seem to have encountered issues and challenges our parents did not face.  It is hard to believe there are truly new issues, but social media is a creation which the world had never seen until the end of the last century.

As with most cultural changes, there are blessings and curses associated with each new phenomenon.  In the last several months, we witnessed a nation's ruling party be overturned, due in part to the influence social media had upon its citizens.  If it can impact a nation, whatever is it doing to today's families?

Unfortunately, we are seeing issues surface which reflect the state of the family's condition through social media relationships. Thankfully, there are numerous ways parents can regain lost ground in this new era of communication. Let me highlight some opportunities, as well as responsibilities, parents need to seize in order to establish healthy habits in the home:

The Early Years

Today's young children are being exposed to the computer at very early ages.  In fact, there is software that introduces a young child to the computer in order to make it more appealing and fun. Some of these products can be helpful in learning numbers and ABC's, but they should not replace books, flash cards, and puzzles.  It should be a supplemental method and not the primary way children learn the basics.

Computer time should be limited to no more than 30 minutes per day and only if the child is interested in being on the computer. Games are an excuse for children to be on it for longer periods of time, but do not let their enjoyment persuade you to allow extended time on the computer.

Children below the age of ten have no business owning a cell phone or having a Facebook or Twitter page.  They do not have the maturity to deal with the freedom and the responsibility that come with managing multiple relationships.  Here is where the problems typically begin.

I often hear the argument that a seven year old needs a cell phone so if a problem should arise while they are at a sleepover, they can notify their parents. My argument to that is if a parent thinks there is going to be an issue, then don't allow the child to stay overnight.  Technology has allowed too much responsibility to be placed on the child for their own well-being and this is simply unfair and unhealthy.  Children need to grow up with parents doing their job so they do not have to grow up too quickly.

Tweens

Social media for children and tweens under twelve is typically asking for problems. Parents will hear the argument that everyone has a Facebook or Twitter account, but don't let that stop you from being firm on this matter.  Once your child has one of these outlets, you are going to have to be involved quite frequently in order to guide, protect, and teach your child how to handle the responsibility.

Cell phones need to be monitored because this age seems to struggle when it comes to time management, relationships, and good judgment. This is not a criticism, but just a by-product of where they are developmentally. More often than not, this age group simply does not think about how their actions may have long term implications.

One of my friends recently shared with me that she was returning home from a road trip and noticed a bus from a local school about three hours from home. As she drove around the bus, she discovered the girls had written their cell phone numbers on paper and placed them in the window so people could get their number to call them.  What was particularly scary to my friend was that she witnessed a trucker slowing down alongside the bus as if he was taking the numbers down. The potential danger in this situation is unimaginable.

Limit computer time to no more than an hour a day and be sure the computer is in the main part of the house. Do not let your middle school children have computers in their rooms because it removes your ability to monitor their activity and screen habits. They won't like this, but that is okay. It is not your job to make them happy, but to protect them from themselves and teach them the lost virtue of moderation.

The High School Years

This season is especially tricky for parents because they do not want to have one more battle on their hands.  However, teens should never have accounts that do not give you complete access to them. There is software you can install on all of your household computers which allows you to get a report on the sites that have been visited. This is not a bad idea if you need to monitor computers with multiple users.

Another healthy habit is for parents to sit down with their teen on a monthly basis and go over entries on their Facebook and Twitter accounts. This will help you become familiar with where your teens are spending their time. You will learn a lot when you see photos, read stories, and ask questions. Most parents would be shocked if they knew what their teens knew, saw, and read from their "friends".

Texting has gotten out of control at every age and it seems as if families cannot eat in peace without family members texting through dinner. Establish ground rules for your family, adults included, so time to talk, share, and listen are a normal part of your family's interactions. Set up ‘no-texting' times and zones and be firm on this matter. Otherwise, technology will control your family instead of you controlling it.

Parents

Teenagers and young adults do not need or want to see pictures of their parents partying out of control or acting inappropriately. Even if they are present when the pictures are taken, it is a completely different issue for them to leave their personal world and go onto a site the entire world can see and observe.  Bottom line, they do not want to be embarrassed in front of their friends. Parents need to consider how their postings and photos will impact their offspring. 

Another issue parents need to consider centers around the idea of parents seeking to be "friends" with their teen's friends.  This is highly inappropriate and places an undue burden on their children.  It completely destroys trust and undermines a parent's role for that child. Know your teen's friends the old fashioned way: face to face. This will allow you to maintain your position as a parent and establish your authority in a healthy and meaningful way.

Technology is a wonderful contribution to our lives if parents allow it to be a tool instead of a substitute for real relationships. Healthy parents will make sure they are creating balance, teaching responsibility, and using it as an opportunity to assess their child's emotional maturity. By being intentional in this ever changing area of life, they will greatly reduce the likelihood of having regrets. After all, every parent wants to know they have done all they can do to raise healthy, well-adjusted children.

March 3, 2011

Catherine Hickem, L.C.S.W., is the author of the new book Regret Free Parenting: Raise Good Kids and Know You're Doing It Right, releasing March 2011 (Thomas Nelson) and is a licensed psychotherapist with three decades of experience. Hickem is a motherhood expert who has made it her life's mission to equip moms for every facet of raising exceptional children. Author, speaker, coach, and counselor, she founded Intentional Moms, a national not-for-profit organization that provides information, support, and insights on motherhood. Hickem lives in Delray Beach, Florida with her husband Neil. They have two adult children. To read Catherine's blog visit www.intentionalmoms.com