Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, Tinder…a lot of our social interaction nowadays takes place on social media. A great deal of our time we’re spending looking at a screen. It’s part of daily life and it seems to be unstoppable. And while this social media world is growing as well the discussion about it continues: Are we losing social skills? Will we be less smart using a lot of social media? The proponents say it’s just the other way around and that we need to adapt our educational system more to it. In between these pro’s and contra’s, science is now trying to make effort to find some scientific evidence for these assumptions.
The parents nowadays are struggling how to deal with these social media in the education of their children; Do you give your child screentime? Do you need to control your teenager online? How do I prevent them from bullying online?
What it makes so difficult for the parents of today to make decisions about it, is that we don’t have an example of our parents dealing with the same questions. Normally you mirror the education of your children with the way your parents educated you: or you do it the same as they did, or you do it totally different. But now we need to figure it out ourselves.
So what to do??
Like said before, there are good things and bad things about the social media. And it’s good to be aware of the benefits and disadvantages so you know when you can stimulate your children using the social media and when you can try to limit the use of it.
For making, building and maintaining relationships with friends and family, some of whom live far away, social media are very useful. You don’t need to use a Collect Call anymore when you’re on holidays to tell your parents that everything is fine. Instead you send them a photo on WhatsApp with you on the beach with a cocktail in your hands. In some ways there’s less isolation, because you can always get in contact with somebody. People can get emotional support in various issues they are dealing with. And social media helps develop social awareness and empathy: there’s information about what’s happening all around the world and support can be arranged by social media.
Besides the social contacts, social media are an educational tool: It has a world of information behind it. Social media makes it easy for children to meet other people, read about other people’s views, and learn new insights from real people around the world. And technology enhances creativity in a variety of ways. Children can develop themselves for example by listening music or watch tutorials on YouTube. By using all these types of media children get up to speed with technology: kids today can more easily grasp complex ideas in technology than earlier generations, and they’re more comfortable with revolutionary tech and concepts.
But like with everything there are as well disadvantages. The use of social media does something with the way our brain works. While in one way social media stimulate social interaction, in another way it doesn’t always stimulate the quality of the social interaction. It’s a different way of making contact, because you don’t activate mirror neurons. Mirror neurons play a major role in your capacity for empathy and understanding for others. They also help you understand another person’s intentions. And by not practicing them, you don’t develop them and it effects your social skills.
Another problem of social media is that it’s kind of addictive! The more likes we get on our posts our body produces more dopamine. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that motivates us to seek out experiences that make us feel pleasure. When it comes down to it, dopamine is the reason why most Millennials are obsessed with social media. All this liking on the media has another side-effect: children (and adults) can build up a negative self-esteem: If we don’t get so many likes we’re getting insecure. And because of this people only post great picture of themselves while everyday life is not always great.
Another brain effect is that the blue screen of some televisions and mobile advises are keeping us awake. Most screens these days use LCDs that emit a blue light that inhibits sleep and disrupts the circadian rhythm (body clock). So using this screens before sleeping affects our sleeprythm. And we know how important our sleep is.
While social media stimulates creativity it can be sometimes good to disconnect. Because nowadays we can always watch something on our screen, we’re not bored anymore. And boredom actually is pretty good for our creativity.
Besides all these brain effects there are some things going on online that happen as well in everyday life: bullying, grooming, sexting. Things we don’t want our children to come across and we need to inform them about and protect them from!
Last but not least we have the privacy issue. Everything you put online stays there. A lot of information about you can be found online. It’s good to be aware of and to make your children aware of it as well.
There are some basic suggestions about dealing with all this in raising your children.
- Like with everything in education a lot of it depends on your own norms and values. With this subjects it’s important to talk with each other as parents and to think about what is important for both of you and how you want to deal with it. Make sure you both express the same thoughts to your children.
- Be a good example: children copy you, so be aware of your own use of social media/mobile/tablet/television. It’s funny to see young children already know how to swipe, but they know it, just by watching you. Count one day how many times you’re watching your phone and not paying attention to your children.
- Your child is still a child and needs your guidance; so you set up rules and know what’s going on.
- To grow the child’s own awareness it’s as well important you give your child confidence and trust in the use of social media. So don’t be on top of it all the time.
- Important is to talk with your children about it and keep it an open conversation. In a lot of aspects it’s not different as how you treat normal bullying, strangers on the street and talk about sexual maturity. You need to inform your children about it and teach them how to deal with it.
- The website internetmatters.org provides a lot of information about making your device child friendly, but as well how to deal with the cyberbullying and a lot of other things. It’s worth to take a look at it.