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Parenting in a social media age: 'This is part of raising children now'

Posted February 26, 2013

Social media and children

— Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, Vine, Pinterest and FaceTime – those are just a few of the online platforms children are using to stay connected to friends. With each new social media connection, experts say it’s crucial for parents to be vigilant about monitoring their children’s online activity.

Tammy Finch works as a psychologist at Cary Academy and teaches parents how to navigate the digital age. She says parents need to be the guardrails on the superhighway of online information.

“You've got to let your kid ping around a little bit in between the guardrails so that they can learn from their mistakes,” she said.

Kalyse Connor, 12, learned from her mistake after she began collecting random followers online who shared her love of the movie, “The Hunger Games.” Her mother, Angela Connor, intervened and asked if she knew any of the people she was communicating with on Instagram.

“I didn’t know any of them, and I realized how bad that was,” Kalyse said.

“So, we went through and deleted all of the people, but I made her understand why,” Angela Connor said. “You don't even know if this is a girl. You don't know if it is a teen.”

This mother-daughter interaction is exactly how experts say parents should handle their children's foray into the digital world, especially as young people are embracing technology.

Angela Connor manages social media for a communications company in Raleigh and is well-versed in her two daughters’ online lives. She and her husband, Derek Connor, do not allow their girls to go on any social network without their permission.

“I think we have to be involved as parents. It's not OK to say, ‘Oh, I don't know. We didn't do that when I was kid,’” Angela Connor said. “It's really important for parents to understand that they have to do this. This is part of raising children now.”

“These things stick with you forever. We don't know what college applications are going to be like in six years. Are they going to Google you? Are they going to go back and look at your Facebook page and see the things you posted?” Derek Connor added.

The Connors’ youngest daughter, 7-year-old Kaiya, is just starting to interact online, especially on Animal Jam – a National Geographic website for children – but she knows the rules: “If you talk rude, someone can report you, and I think when they report you, you won't be able to play again.”

Kalyse Connor, 12 Parenting in a social media age: 'Educate yourself, educate your child'

“Your child could be out there being victimized. They could be a victim of cyber-bullying. They could be the cyber-bully,” Angela Connor said.

Kalyse says she has made fewer mistakes, thanks to her mother's guidance, and has learned some important ground rules: “Don't talk to anybody you don't know. Don't post pictures of people without their permission.”

From threats to sexual references, social media is ripe with opportunities for children to make big mistakes. Last April, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper and a Facebook representative hosted a town hall meeting for parents about the dangers of social media. Cooper offered this Internet safety checklist for parents:

  • How much time is your child spending online? Does it seem like it's too much?
  • Has your child received phone calls from any strange people?
  • Has your child received unusual mail or gifts?
  • Has your child tried to hide online activity?
  • Is your child experiencing any sudden or substantial changes in behavior?

Finch says parents she talks with worry most about whether their children are posting things online that might hurt others or damage their own reputations. When children make a bad choice online, it can be public and permanent.

“Educate yourself. Educate your child. Stay on top of it. Enforce consequences. Have a lot of dialogue about it,” she said. “You only gradually allow them more independence and freedom as they demonstrate they're capable of using it responsibly.”

The Connors say their daughters are gaining their trust when it comes to using the computer, phones and other devices, but the girls know that nothing is kept secret from mom and dad.

“The rule is that I can come look at what you're doing at any given time, that there's really no privacy. You have no privacy in this house,” Angela Connor said.

For Kalyse, being connected online is a big deal for middle school students her age. “Yeah, it’s huge!” she said, especially having her own phone. “It's so important. I text my friends on it. I go on Instagram. I text my mom and dad with it.”

In a recent parent seminar, Finch warned parents that keeping technology away from their children isn’t the answer, and fear-based education doesn’t work. Those who deny their children access to the Internet and social media are setting themselves up for a power struggle, “and you’re not going to win,” she said.

“Technology is going to play a huge part in your child's life, if it doesn't already,” Finch said. “The problem is children's brains aren't ready for this powerful new tool. So that means we have to function as that part of the brain that they don't have … I allow a lot of independence, until you cross that line into doing something that's unsafe or dangerous, and then I'm all over you.”

21 Comments

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  • lisa4 Feb 28, 2013

    There is a movie out now about the social media & teens. My cousin's church has shown the movie "Finding Faith". Eric Estrada was there - he plays in the movie & I think produced the movie. It is based on true events. I just received my copy in the mail yesterday and I can't wait to watch it with my daughter.

  • ctya Feb 27, 2013

    The parents are just as bad as the children in some cases. So who checks the parents accounts and time used. Some parents only facetime their children and wonder why they are disconnected.

  • working for deadbeats Feb 27, 2013

    Maybe parents should be parents. Just saying. Saying NO is not deadly and does not cause permanent scars.

  • Good Bye WRAL Feb 27, 2013

    I have a hard time keeping up with my real family and friends. I don't need virtual friends to keep up with, too! If you don't have enough friends, get to know your neighbor - they might actually be able to help you when you need it.

  • Thornes Feb 27, 2013

    Just a side note, went to CNN to see what's going on with them and they posted this earlier, It relates to this article in a way..... Be Aware.

    http://money.cnn.com/2013/02/27/technology/social/pimps-social-networks/index.html?hpt=hp_c1

  • Good Bye WRAL Feb 27, 2013

    This was a more balanced and practical article than I expected going in. Parents need to be more than aware of their kids online activities, but actively involved in their online profiles and use. Anybody with an online profile (like this on WRAL) might as well be standing on a busy street corner wearing a signboard that says who they are and what they stand for (true or false). There is nothing truly private on the internet!

  • Thornes Feb 27, 2013

    Let's See.

    1.Child is telling parents what they can and cannot do.
    2.Parents are becoming the children

    I think that social media has it's place, making money, personal career networking, business advertising, but nowhere do I see the need for a child under the age of 16 being connected to a Army of other children.
    There have been acts of violence, perverts, and terrorist, lol. If all the parents think that each child needs a social outlet other than personal contact with other children, then I suggest you get your act together.
    I have seen good kids that go to church, hang out with family at gatherings, softball team, A-B students go off the deep end when they get online.

    You don't have to be paranoid, but be very AWARE of what your children are doing.

    You are the Parents, act like one. This is not a reality show it is all very real.

  • heeling84 Feb 27, 2013

    they should run a story about parents that spend too much time on facebook, and not enough time parenting they're out of control kids.

  • NYtoNC81 Feb 27, 2013

    thewayitis: I see absolutely no value to social media, neither for adults nor children. My kids are 10 and 13, and they have yet to interact online in this way. Since they know their parents scoff at Facebook, etc, my kids have not shown a lot of interest, either.

    Me: You need to be more open-minded if you see no benefit. I'm a far more informed person thanks to things like Twitter and RSS feeds. You only get out of it, what you put in to it. In other words, if you follow good sources it is incredibly easy to become more informed.

  • TehFamine Feb 27, 2013

    I wasted a lot of time growing up online. So much I did poorly in school and never went to college. I was in everything including the big AOL craze and various online games before big graphical online games came into play today. It helped me land a job in the video game industry working on multi-million dollar games where I traveled the world from right here in North Carolina for almost 7 years. Now I work in digital marketing making a great salary all because being online made me extremely tech-savvy and above the curve. I wouldn't hinder the digital age because you're afraid of it, learn to hone it.

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