Equity of Being Socially Awkward

So as a parent how do you decide when your children should be on social media? When they start having sex — so in their 30s — the end.

Sigh, guess I should say a bit more than that huh? Well this is a hard topic for me because it is unchartered territory. Facebook is only 10 years old! A generation 20 years ago in 1995 (geez that doesn’t seem that long ago) Biggie and Tupac were still producing albums and the internet consisted of AOL dialup if you had that in your household (many people in my neighborhood didn’t). It was a big deal for me to even have a computer at home to type papers and play solitaire. I remember getting recommendations from my Junior High School “computer teacher” for a commodore 486? I am shaking my head as I type this because today the cell phone in my pocket is probably 200 times more powerful. At that time my parents’ biggest concern was keeping me and my brother away from gangs and out of the street. The only bullies we dealt with in 1995 were the REAL ones living in our neighborhood housing projects. Unfortunately, there was an abundance of them due to the crack cocaine that blazed through the inner city of New York like a demon, possessing everything in its path, in the 80s.

The threats at that time were not “less” real just “more” evident. You knew where they were because you could actively see them around you. When I was growing up there was one simple way to stay on the straight and narrow, voiding the pitfalls of life: Say No To Drugs. If you were an inner city kid that was your mantra for progressing forward positively . Today in 2015 I have no idea what that mantra would be as the world has become a bit more complicated. Drugs and emotionally raped teenagers still exist only now they have the internet. A generation ago cyber bullying was not a term people could fathom and identity theft only existed in Total Recall. Social media was person to person conversation and if you liked someone’s pictures it was because you were holding the Polaroid in your hand and enjoyed how it looked.

Now in the era of selfies, likes, snapchats, status updates and tweets navigating the straight and narrow comes with an extra level of social difficulty; who you are online matters. If you are a nice person in real life but post nothing but racists remarks or gang fights it says something about you to people you know and others you don’t (i.e. the world). The examples of celebrities tweeting out something in appropriate are too numerous to list here but it all becomes part of their “brand” and image even if it’s too damaging (i.e. Kanye West’s interruption of Taylor Swift). Remember the internet is FOREVER.

So is parenting.

My daughters have instagram [insert collective scream here]. Why? I have no idea actually because a minute ago they were little girls who wanted dolls and ice cream. Today they need “likes”, “followers” and clever hashtags. Who made it like THIS!?!?! Wait one darn [yes I said darn out loud] minute….

Was it me? Am I to blame? Of course not. I think.

Today, our children witness the attachment we all have to our cell phone and unless you have a newborn it will soon become learned behavior. The constant ecosystem of  messages and influences from social media; funny memes, posts and personalities float around the world daily. Your son or daughter will intercept some of them. I know I know you are completely and utterly shocked that you aren’t perfect in your parenting power. You can take a number and let me finish my essay.

So what is an engaged parent to do? Like my answer to most rhetorical questions I ask here I don’t really know. We are in a generation of technology that didn’t exist before.  Its tough but isn’t something insurmountable [at least i don’t believe it is]. I also believe that it is a very necessary component of parenting today.

We complicate things in our lives because we refuse to see the similarities in events we participate in and how skill sets carry over. How would you tackle a problem at work of this magnitude? You have to come up with an idea about something no one has ever really seen before, quantify it then make a plan about it for someone else. Because when you think about it that way it becomes a piece of cake right? Right.

Well if you are like me and have struggled either at work or in parenthood wondering what the hell you are doing then I’ll share with you my template for figuring out: Can I do that?  *Sidenote: if this causes you to excel at your workplace, your welcome.

Lets start with what we do know: yourself, your child (hopefully) and what kind of things you want them to stay AWAY from (i.e. messages/images/themes).  Going along with this theme lets look for other forms of media that we can draw reasonable parallels. I’ll pick TV.  How do you monitor what kind of television your children watch? Is there a curfew? Certain channels they aren’t allowed to watch? Movies that are off limits?

Now that we can pull a framework from somewhere which aspects are applicable? Which things can we use and what can we throw out? I would give my children a social media curfew; no posts after 9pm. [Got to start somewhere]

From there you can decide how you would like to manage what pages they follow and have access to as well as who follows them. I believe their friends in real life should mirror their friends on social media. So if they, can’t call this person to say hello they probably shouldn’t be following them on social media. Celebrities are a toss up because while Michelle Obama is someone I would want my daughters to follow on facebook i know Rihanna is someone they admire as well. Your daughter might very well look at Rihanna’s page anyway but the precedent on who you deem as appropriate needs to be set. My mother wouldn’t want me to watch Def Comedy Jam when I was younger because of the cursing but I managed to anyway. I don’t think social media is much different. You have to set boundaries even if you know they will be tested.

As in most things you are probably holding more answers than you realize; who do YOU follow in social media? If both you and your child follow an approved account and comment, that could become a level of interaction between you both [*sidenote: this is not in replacement of actual physical conversation]. The side effect of this is self monitoring for the sake of the correct example for your children (….i’ll be damned if that theme doesn’t feel familiar). Your life will go on if you can’t follow Rihanna’s page or F*ckJerry(may want to just create another login for those). Check your daughter/son’s page periodically so that they know you are always aware of what they post but not enough that they feel micromanaged. Talk to them constantly and if they post something inappropriate speak to them and tell them WHY it wasn’t the correct thing to post online. The goal is to enable your children to make smart, informed and thoughtful decisions…WITHOUT you. The building blocks for that start now. Online or in real life.

– A Single Dad

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