This is a guest blog post by Wendy and Jeff Henderson. Jeff is a leading voice on how to create and grow momentum for organizations and leaders and is a member of my Speaking Team. You can book Jeff to consult with your team or speak at your next event here.
Parenting is much like a pendulum.
The tighter you pull back on the pendulum the faster it pulls away when you ultimately release it.
The aim of parenting is releasing our kids into the world, prepared and ready. It’s why we should slowly but consistently release the pendulum throughout the teenage years.
In the early years, pulling tightly on the pendulum makes perfect sense. This is the season of car seats. But before you know it, the one in the car seat will literally be in the driver’s seat driving away.
If we still treat them like they are in the car seat when they are teenagers, they will drive away unprepared to make decisions as an adult.
In our presentations to parents about social media, we hear (and understand) the strong temptation to completely control, restrict and ban its use in the lives of their kids. And, that might be the right call for some teenagers in certain seasons and for certain reasons.
Our concern though is what happens when the kids go off to college or ultimately leave the home – which, by the way, is the goal.
When the parenting pendulum has been so tightly pulled back, controlled and restrictive, the natural counter-reaction is to swing wildly in the other direction when released. There’s a phrase for this.
It’s called Freshman Year.
IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY
We can apply this parenting principle which is so helpful and true when our kids are teenagers:
Great parenting isn’t controlling. Great parenting is coaching.
This is true in all areas of life, and social media is one of them.
Coaching our kids on how to use technology is a much better strategy than simply controlling their technology use. That’s not to say you give up control. Remember, you are the parent. You are in control. But as Andy Stanley says, “Approach is everything.”
How we approach our kids on this and any topic makes all the difference.
Think of it like teaching our kids how to drive a car. If we dug in our heels and said, “There are a lot of things that could go wrong. You are not driving a car,” well, that’s an approach. But probably not a healthy one.
The better approach is what we normally do. It’s a process.
There is a learner’s permit, driving school and rules for the road.
We don’t just hand a teenager keys to a car and say, “Good luck.”
And yet, sometimes, that’s what happens with technology. We hand our kids a phone and say, “Good luck” with very little training or coaching.
It’s why social media should be like learning to drive. There should be a learner’s permit, driving school and rules for the road.
Since this doesn’t currently exist, we are going to give you ideas for each one of these.
The ultimate goal of this parenting roadmap is helping you slowly release the parenting pendulum so that when you ultimately release it the result isn’t a wild swing in the opposite direction. It results in our kids being released with the wisdom and maturity to make the best decisions possible.
Before you begin coaching your kids on social media, it’s helpful to begin with some basic rules regarding their phone use:
Please repeat this statement to your kids over and over: “The primary reason you have a phone is so that I can get in touch with you. It is not so you can get in touch with your friends.”
The “Find my Friends” app is your friend. Our kids know we are tracking them via their phone and we know exactly where they are. This is a great gift to us as parents (though we’re glad our parents didn’t have this!)
Limiting where their phone is used in the home will limit the use of their phone. (We discussed this in detail in our previous blog post.)
Inform them of the monthly cost of their phone and when they can, have them contribute to the cost. This not only teaches them about technology but also about finances.
Read their text messages. Yes, that’s right. Invade their privacy. We told our kids there should be no deleting of text messages. We didn’t tell them when we would read their text messages, only that we would from time to time. This helped provide some great conversations and coaching about how to respond to certain situations as well as getting a glimpse on what they are thinking. It also, perhaps, forced them to have an actual conversation with a friend versus texting about it. This was a win in and of itself.
You are the instructor of this school, even if you don’t consider yourself very tech-savvy. How the instructor drives is often how the student drives.
No phones at the dinner table.
When parents limit their own use of technology at home, it is modeling the way for their kids.
With any school, there are certain milestones and tests that lead to graduation. As we said in our last post, when our kids wanted to get on Snapchat, we had an age milestone of 16 years old. Until they were 16, it was non-negotiable. Once they reached 16, they had to watch the sermon series “The New Rules for Love, Sex and Dating” by Andy Stanley. Watching a series on love, sex and dating with your parents would certainly make any teenager wonder how much they really wanted a Snapchat account.
Point out positive role models on social media. Often, we only hear the negative side of technology. However, there is a very positive side. We have had great discussions about what certain athletes or other role models have shared on social media – whether it is a quote or how they are living their lives. This, of course, would require you to be following and taking notes of how you can leverage the positive stories you find and using it as a part of your social media driver’s school. Take advantage of the positive stories out there and use them as coaching tools.
Pick one social media channel and stay with that one for a year. There really isn’t any reason for our kids to have multiple social media channels starting out. It’s much easier for you to manage and train them with just one channel.
Once you have selected that one channel, be sure to follow your teenager and make their account private. Keep an eye on whom they are following and who is following them.
In most social media channels, you can be alerted when your teenager posts something. This allows you to encourage them on something they posted, or provide feedback if you didn’t like what they posted. Either way, the point is clear to your kids – you are paying attention to what they are doing on social media. It’s all part of the Social Media Driving School.
RULES FOR THE ROAD
Think of these ten rules for the road as road signs and speed limits. You might even consider posting them somewhere in your house.
Never text or post out of anger. It’s like going to the grocery store hungry. Both will lead to regret.
Ask this question before texting or posting: “Would I want my parents to read this?”
Ask this question before texting or posting: “Will I regret this five years from now?”
Criticize in person not online. If you have something negative to say, say it directly and privately.
Are you able to take a break from social media for ten days? If not, it’s time to take a break from social media.
Be an encourager online, not a critic.
Be the same person online as you are offline.
If you aren’t sure you should post it, don’t.
The pictures you show of yourself should be modest and tasteful.
Never determine your self-worth and identity from social media. If you do, you have given over control of your life to other people.
In many ways, parenting is more challenging today than ever before because these days of technology are unprecedented. While it is understandable to parent out of fear, it’s much better to parent out of faith knowing that God loves our kids more than we do and He has promised to give us wisdom when we ask.
GOOD PARENTING TAKES TIME