Teenagers’ Relationship With Social Media & Our Responsibility As Parents

Social media has become a sensitive topic and the cause of many an argument between parents and their teenage children. Some parents cannot quite comprehend the attraction for these youngsters to spend so much time locked up in their room staring at a computer screen, rather than enjoying face to face interaction. In other words, tablets, phablets and mobile phones are gadgets they seemingly can no longer do without. They carry them everywhere – during lunch, while watching television and at times, even to the bathroom. Worst still, they even choose which places to hang out depending on whether free wi-fi is, or is not, available.

Does all this sound very familiar?

It is a reality we, as parents are experiencing with our “not so young” kids. There is no way of avoiding it, so whether we like it or not we must embrace it. Social media has become an integral part of our lives and influences everyone from all walks of life, irrespective of age or status.

So rather than trying to resist or forbidding its use, we must understand our sons’ and daughters’ fascination with this powerful phenomenon. As with everything else in life, the important thing is to encourage our children to use caution and moderation. Surely, it is a useful and largely positive tool, but not without risk.

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When we were their age, we probably used to spend hours on the phone with our best friend. Today, our kids can communicate with all their friends at the same time. It is a modern and efficient means of communication. It is important for us parents to acknowledge that our children are growing up in an age that is radically different to the freshly independent Malta some of us grew up in. We might think that the simpler way in which we lived back then was somewhat better, but nostalgia is not helpful because this is the only world they now know. So, let us encourage them to make the best use of what is available today, and help them to build trusting and meaningful relationships.

Ok, so most tweens and teens are very skillful with all things technological, whereas for some of us parents they may at times seem complicated if not, outright confusing. I urge all those who tend to give up easily, to put in an extra effort to learn at least the basics. It is vital to accept, and participate in, our children’s online life. We must be conscious of, and in turn, teach our children, the power of technology. They may be in their bedrooms lounging in their pyjamas, but whatever they post online is instantly put out there for all to see and comment upon. So we must be vigilant, so as to educate, and help them to make wiser choices.

It is indeed unfortunate that youngsters may be basing their own self-worth and esteem on the likes and comments they receive on these internet sites. Some sites are anonymous giving greater opportunities for abusive ‘trolls’ and ‘hate mail’.

Rather than prohibiting social media use, however, let us take it upon ourselves to embrace the responsibility of nurturing a deep sense of self love and respect in our children. From a tender age, it is imperative to encourage open communication about everything that goes on, both within the family unit, as well as without.

Our children must feel free to discuss absolutely anything with us, without fear of being judged: from the irrelevant to the embarrassing; from the mundane to the mind-boggling, such as quantum mechanics; as well as relationships and our own life experiences. On the contrary, they must feel unconditionally loved by us. It should indeed come naturally to our sons and daughters to seek us out and to discuss any thought, emotion or situation. This may sound ideal but is not impossible: the key is investing time and energy during our children’s formative years.

In conclusion, we cannot ostracise our children. Social media is the way forward. It gives our children countless opportunities on a personal, as well as on a social level. It opens their minds and their hearts to everything that is going on around them, not only within our shores but also on a worldwide level.

If used well, it can render them more sensitive to the joys, as well as to the sufferings around them, helping them mature somewhat quicker. Of course, social media does have a dark side, but then it is up to us, as parents to give teenagers the necessary direction and to keep them in check. It is our responsibility to set reasonable usage parameters and to equip them with the skills to effectively manage a tool that is undoubtedly essential to their development and to their social life.