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Sunday, January 12, 2014

What's Important about a Family Social Media Policy?

Social media, as a method of communication, is probably here to stay. Witness the IPOs of social media companies like Facebook and Instagram and the increasing use by folks from all age groups and walks of life. Did you know that there is more email on Facebook than on the rest of the internet? If you aren't on board, well, your missing out on part of the mainstream.

For our kids with learning issues, there is reason to pause. Not retreat; just pause. Pause long enough to learn the benefits and the risks.  For many of our children, the internet and social media, and all it has to offer, has been a tremendous boon.

What is concerning about social media?
What is it about social media that is concerning that we should be aware of?

·      Social interaction is different when it isn’t interactive. For millennia humans have used many pieces of communication to interact; body language, voice tones and pace to name a few. We are social creatures used to reading subtle cues that help us figure out what is meant by the words we hear. Many of these pieces of communication are greatly diminished or altogether missing when interacting on social media.

·      There can be less of a “governor” applied when the impact of your communication is not seen or felt.  Cyber bullying can easily happen, because pieces of communication are missing. A lack of non-verbal feedback can create a tendency to go to far with what is said. A large opportunity for misinterpretation of what was meant can also arise because of not having all the tools of communication in play.

·      The lack of feedback surrounding an interaction can create anxiety. This anxiety can be subtle and hard to notice yet impact the life of our children in ways that make them less confident and unsettled.

·      Reality can be easily manipulated and pass as truth. Pictures can be airbrushed and words can be chosen to create images that just aren’t true. A young person might feel intimidated, inadequate or badly about communications that are not what they seem.

How can you make social media “safe” for kids of all ages?  How do you parent to these issues?

·      Engage in honest conversations with your children about how social media interactions are different. Go over the points above illustrating how social media is different from a conversation on the phone or in person. Awareness is a big part of learning how to use social media.

·      Provide social options that offer different ways of communicating. Talk about the different ways of communicating. Ask which your child is most comfortable with and why.

·      Role model good behavior. Are you on your phone or texting often? Do you meet for coffee with friends? Talk about the balance of different ways of communicating that you use in your life.

·      Offer tech free zones in your house where the spoken word is king!

·      Add tech free hours like homework time, dinner-time, trips in the car and the first 30 minutes home from school or work. You will be amazed at how rich these times can be!

Get clear on your family social media policy!

One on one, eye to eye is the place to start this conversation.  Spend time with your child, whether they are youngsters or older teens, and decide what works for your family.  Use some or all of the above ideas to determine what works best for your family. Your kids need and want your influence and boundaries even though it doesn't always seem like it. Remember that these boundaries will strengthen your bonds and allow for trust to flourish.

Becky Scott
Becky works with families that experience learning issues that are looking for answers to perplexing questions in order to help them lead productive and successful lives!

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