Our kids are growing up in a society run by electronic media. Kids as young as eight are spending an average of six-plus hours per day on media use - TV, smartphones, tablets, etc. - more than ANY other activity. It's no surprise that this level of electronic media has a profound effect on our kids, but can it impact our relationship with them?
Absolutely. Social media creates an environment that replaces the need for in-person communication. Friendships develop on Facebook rather than in school, and texting replaces the need to call. This creates the possibility for an entirely separate social life for your child that you may not even know exists. Naturally, this limits your ability to influence and guide them to make smart decisions.
So what can you do as a parent?
One of the most important things you can do is monitor and limit your child's use on social media, which isn't always an easy task. Remember that all social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. require you to be at least 13 years old to join. Keep an eye out and look at any and all user profiles your child might have, for their protection and because cyber-bullying and access to inappropriate content are major concerns.
If you're okay with your tween or teen using social media, don't be shy about dropping a comment here and there about something you saw on his or her profile. Kids are likely to be more careful if they know a parent is monitoring them.
However, especially as they move more into the teen years, kids aren't likely to respond well to unnecessary intrusion on their personal life. The key in maintaining a strong relationship with your child in a frequently electronic-based world is regular, open, and encouraging communication. Agree on time limits to computer usage and have a dedicated 'family time' each day.
One idea is to forbid the use of electronic devices in the car-forcing your poor child to either carry on a conversation with you on the way to school or the store or stare morosely out the window. (Don't feel bad if they choose the morosely staring over you-it happens.) Or schedule at least one meal a day-dinner or breakfast or even a snack, where you sit and look at each other and speak.
It's easy to give up when your child seems far more interested in technology than having a conversation with you, but just keep at it! You-and your child-may be surprised at how much you enjoy actually talking to each other.
Pioneer educator Dr. Michael Popkin is the founder of Active Parenting Publishers and is the author of many award winning video-based parenting education programs. An expert in his field, Dr. Popkin earned a doctorate in Counseling Psychology from Georgia State University and has served as Director of Child and Family Services at an Atlanta hospital.