As I travel across the country speaking, I have the wonderful pleasure of getting to know many parents and teachers. One of the things I have always found so interesting is a teacher’s use of boundaries in the classroom. Although it varies from teacher to teacher, most every teacher will tell you that, if you do not establish firm boundaries the first week of school, students will be inclined to take advantage of looser guidance. Sometimes this can result in a bit of chaos.
The same principal applies in the home. Children tend to thrive in environments where there are clear, concise boundaries. And while it is THEIR job to test our boundaries, it is OUR job to maintain them. With today’s access to devices and social media, bound-aries are more important than ever. So what might this look like in your home when it comes to setting boundaries around social me-dia? Here are a few tips I have recommended to parents over the years.
1) Maintain empathy for your teen. As a general rule, the current parent generation did not grow up with the outstanding amount of social media peer pressure our children are facing today. Having empathy for your child in this space will help show them that, while you will maintain boundaries to keep them safe, you empathize with what they are experiencing. Sometimes just admitting you will never know how they feel, that it must be incredibly hard to maintain the balance between social media and friends, helps them to feel seen and heard.
2) Allow for natural consequences. This is hard. We never want to see our children fail, but failure is an incredibly important component to growth. While we want boundaries that will protect them from serious harm, we also do not want to lock them down so much that they never learn how to recover from failure. This may look like extra device time, or an app that you have approved. If they do not operate within the boundaries that you set for the device time or app, then a natural consequence could be to have the time decrease or the app removed.
3) Keep the bigger picture in mind. In our home, if my sons are listening to music on an approved app that has some ex-plicit language, I am okay with that. That is not a hard boundary in our home. I have also found that allowing this liberty has given my sons the freedom to want to listen to their music while in the car with me. This has created many, many opportunities for us to have open conversations about what they are listening to. Hard boundaries in our home lie more in what they are posting and saying online. Our boundaries/rules are: Do not post anything unkind, rude, or inappropriate. And they know what each of these are defined by. So for us, the big picture isn’t so much the music they are listening to but how they are treating others online. Our “give” in the music area helps them feel they are not incredibly locked down and that they have a small win. This is just an example, and all par-ents have to decide what works best for their family.
4) Always be firm and consistent. Children are built to test our patience. It is that resilience that will serve them through much harder times in life. But as parents, it is also that constant resistance we get from them that makes us…well…tired. And more prone to give in. This leads to confusion and even more push back from your child. Having clear, concise, set boundaries with conse-quences will give you peace…and your child guidance on what they can and cannot do.
5) Last, and so important… Respect THEIR boundaries. During conferences, I ask kids to name the number one thing they would ask their parents to stop doing online. Without fail they always say: STOP posting pictures of them without their permission. Ask your child before you post something with their image. This shows that you respect their boundaries, and will lead to a more trusting relationship.
Further, if you allow your child to have social media, please do not “comment” under their posts. This embarrasses them and, honestly, drives them crazy. We should definitely MONITOR what they are doing, but comments need to be left to private and in person. Like I tell parents all the time, kids have their own social media lane…Facebook is our old person lane. And that is okay! We should all stay in our lanes. It sure does make for healthier, happier boundaries.
As always, if you need support or have questions, I am here!
Kristi Bush serves as a national education consultant and social media safety advocate. She is a licensed social worker with greater than 15 years of clinical practice and health care experience. She attended Troy and Auburn University where she studied social work and counseling. Kristi travels nationally and has spoken with thousands of children, parents, professionals and organizations about the benefits and threats associated with social media. You may reach Kristi through her website at www.knbcommunications.com.