Taking the Wheel

Lynn JataniaI’ve recently become the chauffeur for my son and his group of friends, as they go to for a weekly gaming afternoon/hangout at one boy’s house. It’s clear that my role as the driver is to be invisible – they talk and goof around with each other in the car as if I’m not there, and if I do interject in their conversation, there’s a moment when they all freeze, confused as to where this voice from above came from, before ignoring it and carrying on. I’m there to hover on the outside, not to get involved.

That’s kind of how I see my role on social media too – at least on Instagram, which is the only platform that we’ve dipped into so far. When my 14-year-old son set up an account a few months ago, we insisted his account be private, and also that I’d be allowed to follow him, at least for the first while, to keep an eye on things. My role is to observe without being intrusive; to appreciate the fact that, for now at least, he’s content to let me take a cherished peek into his life with his friends, but to keep my comments to myself, and let him have a space to interact with his friends without my interference.

(But liking posts is fine – encouraged, even. Someone, I’m not saying who, gets a little pouty when mama doesn’t like his posts.)

It’s been going well, but when MediaSmarts released its videos on Social Media and Your Kids, I realized I was only focusing on half the equation. So far, our whole social media focus has been on keeping our son safe – without worrying too much about his possible effect on others.

We’ve been paranoid about his privacy, bringing up stories of future employers checking his feeds and strangers stalking him online. We’ve been making sure he keeps tight control over his friends list and doesn’t post anything too revealing or embarrassing.

But what about the way he treats others? It’s kind of like we forgot that social media is, you know, a social thing. We haven’t talked much about how to leave an appropriate comment, how to ask someone if you can post or share their picture, or how to handle it if he accidentally hurts someone’s feelings.

There’s a lot of great ideas in the videos – walk away from social media if you are upset, before you post something you regret; talk to people in person if possible, to sort out misunderstandings; and always, always respect your circle of friends. It’s easy to see how we’d overlook this kind of stuff – it’s day-to-day social management, values and ideals we hope we’ve already instilled. But I forget how quickly these rules break down in front of a screen, how easy it is to act without thinking, to say something that you can’t take back.

It’s important to us that our kids learn the ins and outs of social media while they’re still young enough to take our advice – young enough to let us still be in the driver’s seat. So sounds like it’s time to buckle up – we have a few more conversations to have, a few more rules to gently suggest before he’s behind the wheel on his own.

Have you talked to your kids about how to respect others on social media, in addition to themselves? What are your rules and guidelines, and how do you monitor them, if at all? I’d love to hear them!