Right now, we’re growing into a very specific generation of parents: those who understand and use social media, but didn’t necessarily grow up with the same breadth and pressure of social media that their children are currently facing. Whether you’re a fan of using these platforms or not, facts are facts and social media has become an unavoidable part of our lives--the Pew Research Center reported in 2018 that 95% of teenagers in America have access to smartphones, and 45% of those report being online “on a near-constant basis.” While you can’t completely control what your kid sees online, you can encourage them to develop a habit of positive social media usage where they make better choices about what they decide to consume.
You, as a parent, know the dangers of social media—data breaches, cyberbullying, inappropriate content, and predators among the top issues—and while making your child aware of these possible risks and monitoring their usage is necessary, it’s not the only way to positively influence how they spend their online time. First off, the “social” aspect of social media is something to focus on! While it’s easy to view constant scrolling as isolating (and it can be,) the biggest reported positive takeaway teens get from social media is connection. With friends (81% of polled teens agreed!), with people who like the same TV shows and books and music, with other cultures and viewpoints and ways of life. Teaching your child from their first interactions with social media that it can be a positive way for people to stay connected (especially in this Covid world) is the first step to changing the way they see and then use social media.
Then, we can also help kids be introspective about what they’re looking at and why. If they understand the purpose of social media as positive, they’re simply less likely to be sucked into any negative behavior. However, any lesson works better when you’re given concrete examples. Try scrolling with them through their feed (or yours, if they’re not allowed their own yet,) on Instagram or TikTok (just in case you haven’t heard, Facebook is apparently only for older people now,) and discuss different posts. There are many questions to pose, but there’s two big ones to start: Why did someone post this? and How does it make you feel when you see it? These questions will start your child thinking about the concept of other people having motivation around their posting, and how social media is intrinsically tied to our self-perception. Give an example where you unfollow a creator because their content is no longer serving you—maybe it makes you feel bad, or maybe you’re just no longer interested. Showing your kid how they control their own experience on social media is one of the keys to being able to use social media in a way that gives something, rather than takes away.
Then, as they get older, you can find concrete examples of how social media can be used positively. There are many, but some favorites include: social media for social change and community outreach, social media for learning, and, of course, social media for creativity—including dance! Redirecting versus restricting your kid’s social media use allows them access to the world, but instead helps guide their content consumption in the right direction.
Our recommendations? Do some research! Show your kid things like Greta Thunberg’s Twitter account where she uses her voice to advocate for better responses to climate change, or this report on how social media is letting emergency responders save more lives. And maybe they know more about this than they realize. Ask your child if they know any examples of people banding together on social media--K-Pop fans have been making the headlines recently, for instance—and let them teach you! And while a straight forward educational program might not be able to captivate your kid’s interest, what about a TikTok account that shows tons of cool experiments and the science behind them in easy-to-digest, short videos? The learning doesn’t have to be limited to the classroom—this study shows that our increase in social media use has had positive effects in promoting cross-cultural understanding. Every time your kid gets on their phone or computer, their able to experience far-flung places they’ve never even heard of through the eyes of someone else—talk about a way to build empathy!
And remember: they are called content creators, after all. Opening ourselves up to the wider world helps open up our brains, increasing creativity as we see and consider new perspectives. And since you’re on the SRL blog, we bet your kid is a dancer, or at least an aspiring one. Irish dance social media is booming, and a real place of creation, community, and support. Check out the Irish dance tags across platforms and help your dancer find role models and examples in their favorite artistic sport. You can even encourage them to continue the trend of positive social media if they seem interested in making their own content with the same conversations--Why are you posting this? How does it make you feel? How might it make others feel? Remember: social media learns our habits (through a process too complicated for us to explain here,) and while that can sound a bit creepy, it also means the more your kids focus on positive social media, the more positive social media they’ll see!
While banning social media totally may seem like the best idea, we all know the stories about what happens when you tell a kid they can’t have something everyone else has—they find a way to rebel. Shaping the conversation around social media in your household will help your kid feel a sense of independence and personhood where they’re better able to make good decisions for themselves. And, adults, this advice is for you too! It’s all too easy to get swept away in people’s beautiful vacations and perfect photos on social media—we need a reminder that we control the content we consume sometimes, too!
This post is part of a series. Read our last 411 post, all about the benefits of mixed-age range classes, here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
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