Draw The Internet Line, Parents!

Jul 03, 2015 1 Min Read


Guide children who use social media

In today’s reality, having Internet access is as essential as having water and electricity. A global mobile sample and research provider called On Device Research (2014) reported that in Malaysia, the Internet penetration is 66% against a population of 30 million people; with 70% living in urban areas.

The mobile social media penetration in Malaysia (as of October 2014) stood at 50%, when compared with neighbouring countries Singapore (80%), Thailand (46%) and APAC average (22%).

The top three most popular websites visited by Malaysians are: Google.com, Facebook and YouTube. For Facebook, children and young people (aged 13–24) make up nearly half of the users in Malaysia.

With these statistics, one can be certain that a typical 13-year-old Malaysian dwelling in a big city is likely to own a mobile phone with Internet access and is an active Facebooker. This is the reality of the day.

As a parent, how do we fit into this scenario? Do we need to take our parenting online too? Is there a line to be drawn for our children when it comes to social media use?

Before we proceed further, let’s have a clear understanding of the concept “social media”. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary explained it as forms of electronic communication (as websites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (such as videos).

It is a means of interaction among people in which they create, share, and/or exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and networks.

On the other hand, Whatis.com, (a search site for knowledge exploration and self-education tool about information technology), defines social media as “the collective of online communications channels dedicated to community-based input, interaction, content-sharing and collaboration”.

Bridging the parental divide

Popular social media platforms include blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Wikipedia, Reddit, Pinterest, YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr, Instagram and LinkedIn. These definitions have one thing in common, they all explain social media as being community-based, and which involves the exchange of information using an online platform.

So, what do parents in other parts of the world do to manage their children’s social media use? How do they react?

A quick browse through the literature yields mixed views. For instance, a survey conducted by Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics involving 728 American parents found that 83% of parents think the benefits of their children’s social media use outweigh or at least balance any perceived risks.

This view seems to be at odds with 40% of parents within this group who worry that their children’s online activity could breed social isolation and behavioural problems; and another 40% of parents who are concerned about their children’s virtual lives getting in the way of their real-life social skills and friendships.

In the UK, parents reveal their discomfort with social media. Approximately 63% of 1,006 parents of children aged eight to 16 surveyed online by Opinium, reported following their child’s Internet activity at least once a week.

While 21% of these parents were not confident they could install parental controls, 46% admitted not being confident or aware of the school Internet policy.

An interview with 16 American parents with teenage children in Altanta, Georgia gave detailed insights into their fears of wanting to balance parental authority with teen privacy and independence.

Parents of pre-teens were stricter than parents of older teens in enforcing rules about frequency, time and place of technology use.

However, despite having such rules none of the 16 parents used GPS to track their child’s location.

Equal numbers of parents (18%) required their teenagers to befriend them on Facebook and share passwords.

The researchers also found that parents acknowledged their awkwardness with technology and some did not understand their children’s fascination with chats.

All parents were aware that they could not monitor or control everything their children were doing online.

On the bright side

Despite the negativity, is social media all that bad? There must be something good about it otherwise children will not gravitate towards it.

Many children have more positive than negative perceptions towards social media. Some benefits noted are:

  • another outlet to express themselves
  • builds confidence
  • reaffirms their extroverted personality trait
  • strengthened friendships
  • opportunities to collaborate with others
  • encourages self-censorship
  • sources of information
  • encourages multitasking

In essence, if you have a child or teenager today, we as parents, have to jump on board the ship; otherwise the ship will sail without us. Just like the times when our parents used to nag us about television watching, many saying it’s a waste of time, we certainly never thought so.

Parenting social media tips

  1. Adopt an authoritative parenting style
    • Set rules and limits for acceptable technology use and behaviour
    • Allow children to talk and negotiate on these rules
    • Outline clear consequences for rule-breaking

    Authoritative parenting is a classic parenting concept in developmental psychology which came about from Diana Baumrind’s research. This parenting style recognises the child’s interest.

    Baumrind states that authoritative parents attempt to direct the child’s activities in a rational, issue-oriented manner and all the while greatly valuing the child’s autonomous self-will and conformity to rules.

    For instance, in my household, mobile phones is not to be used at dining table, especially when the meal is served. Any violations will see the phone confiscated immediately.

  2. Get educated about technology
    • Keep up with technology trends

    Forbes reported that Ello is a new social platform intended to go head-to-head with social media giant, Facebook.

    Ello is claimed to be forever advertisement-free unlike at present time Facebook users are bombarded by advertisements.

  3. Educate children on how to keep their online footprints clean
    • Not to leave identifiable details such as phone number, address, and identity card number

    Similar to meeting strangers face-to-face, our children are warned against speaking to people unknown to them.

    In the social world, there might be child predators wanting personal information to locate and befriend them.

  4. Remind children it’s a World Wide Web
    • Information is permanent and public
    • Be prepared for differences in opinions and instigations for arguments

    Unlike verbal communication, whereby a person might eventually forget, pictures and comments posted online are permanent and can come back to haunt them for years to come.

  5. Do not be the cyberbully
    • Never shame your child on social media, it will backfire on you!
    • Never write sexist or racist remarks about your child’s teachers or friends on their social media platforms

    Some parents may think that they are teaching their teenagers a lesson by leaving a compromising picture on their Facebook page.

    One father took to YouTube to reprimand his teenage daughter and was heavily criticised by netizens.

  6. Keep reality and online separate
    • Refrain from taking your arguments online
    • Settle disagreements within the same day in a face-to-face discussion

    If a reprimand is in order, try this. Have a private closed door discussion about your disagreement with your child. Keep your emotions in check and voice even.

    Be objective and clear about why you are feeling upset or displeased. After hearing out the reasons, forgive and forget. As parents, we should choose our battles wisely.

  7. Have offline family days
    • Have a family contract to not access the internet for a day!
    • Spend the time doing things together as a family

    I personally know of a family who “disconnects” every Sunday. If you can’t do that, at least try to turn off all devices for half a day.

    Try playing a board game as a family and the losers can cook dinner!

Elaine Yong is a lecturer and developmental psychologist with Sunway University. She is a mother of two; a five-year-old boy and a four-month-old baby girl. She lectures in the area of Developmental and Educational Psychology. Besides lecturing, she enjoys giving talks on parenting to assist new parents with parenthood. Email editor@leaderonomics.com or comment in the box provided to connect with her. For more Work-Life Balance articles, click here.

First appeared on Leaderonomics.com. Published in English daily The Star, Malaysia, 4 July 2015

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This article is published by the editors of Leaderonomics.com with the consent of the guest author. 

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