In 2006, Facebook changed its policy from allowing only college students to sign up for accounts to allowing access to everyone at least 13 years old with a valid email address. Fast forward to 2015 and now moms, dads and even grandparents have joined in on the social media frenzy. In fact, usage among seniors continues to increase.
According to Pew Research Center, 45% of Facebook users say they are Facebook friends with their parents and 43% say they are friends with their children. The online interaction between parents and their children, as well as their friends’ children and their children’s friends, can get complicated.
Luke Johnson, QHHS-CPST, Case Manager of Youth & Family Services at Harbor Behavioral Health, an affiliate of ProMedica, says issues with social media within parents, children and families have to do with boundaries and what they look like. “Just because it is so easy to communicate with whoever you want, wherever you want, does not mean we should necessarily do it.”
In other words, you may want to think twice before exposing your child’s embarrassing “throwback” pictures or before making mushy or sensitive comments public.
Friending a Friend of a Child
Respecting boundaries extends beyond the family, too.
Before friending your child’s friends, Johnson recommends speaking with the child’s parents beforehand, specifically if they are still a minor. “There are still legal issues that could come up even unintentionally. It’s also a respect issue,” he says.
Before you send them a message, Johnson advises, “Relate it back to before there was social media. Could you see yourself calling your child’s friend on the phone? If you wouldn’t do that, maybe it’s not a good idea to message them in a different way. If you wouldn’t have called, should you be messaging them? It’s a safe guard. Ask yourself, ‘What is the purpose of this?’ ‘Why am I doing that?’”
He continues, “Facebook gives us a perceived fulfillment of connectedness of others. It’s desirable to feel connected but we overlook seeing consequences if we don’t think about it a little more.”
Parents Can Cyberbully, Too
Cyber bullying is another issue that Johnson sees frequently with parents. “People are constantly trying to portray themselves in a perfect way and they develop self-worth based on social media currency,” he says. “An unhealthy way to boost self-esteem is to put others down during the same process. Parents try to one-up other parents or children by making certain comments on pictures or statuses, or by bringing their child into the mix to increase social media currency.”
Johnson states that social media allows for situations that wouldn’t normally get brought up in the real world to appear in the social world, making people feel less included or less worthy.
“This is breeding ground for issues of self-worth and feeling of belonging,” Johnson says. “Before Facebook, people wouldn’t know what party they were feeling left out of. It adds fuel to fire by putting things out for not only the child or parent to see, but also onlookers.”
While social media attracts people of all ages, Johnson believes that too often, parents are more consumed by it than their own children.
“Parents are paying more attention to it than their kids, sharing pictures and saying ‘I am so proud of them’ and thinking ‘I want to show everyone. Look, your picture got 50 likes!’ When in reality, the child just wants a hug and to hear their parent say they are proud and that they love them,” says Johnson. “Sometimes people get so wrapped up in social media and parents are so preoccupied showing the world how much they love their child that they forget to actually show them.”
Think Before You Post
Johnson offers the following basic guidelines for parents using social media:
- Communicate with other parents
- Be mindful and cautious
- Use moderation
- Have forethought with how you’re interacting with your children and their friends
“Things are at the end of our fingertips and it’s easy to friend request someone; we do it almost instinctively,” says Johnson. “Always think about what your purpose is and why you’re doing it and try to consider outcomes of how it could be good or misconstrued. Just remember, thousands of people can see this activity, which can lead to thousands of different perceptions.”