Use Social Media Like Your Kids Are Watching You ... Because they Already Are!

October 19, 2017 Bonnie Connolly, MD


Here are some tips for parents to model good social media habits.

As much as we may not want to admit it, we all have a social media reputation. Some of us are loud, others are more reserved and some are interesting enough to have a large following. If you haven’t considered your online reputation in a while, maybe it’s a good idea, especially if you’re a parent.

“Children learn by watching their parents—as a mother with two small sons, that’s something I’m continually aware of,” says Bonnie Connolly, MD, a board-certified internal medicine physician at St. Joseph Heritage Medical Group. “The way you model your behavior in social settings, including social media, can have a very big impact on them.”

How do you model good social media habits? Even if your child is too young to read what you are posting, it’s not a bad idea to start being more intentional about your social media habits. Here are some tips.

Check your dependency. Do you run for your phone the moment you come home from work? We all like to catch up on social media after hours, but if you’re putting screen time ahead of family time, check your priorities. The same goes for scrolling through phones during family meals. A good rule is to keep technology off the dining room table.

Don’t overshare. When children are young, it’s easy to get hooked into posting endless photos of them doing the cutest little things. But do you need to show every tantrum and potty training session? Obviously, you can't ask a baby or toddler for permission. But you can pause for a moment before posting and ask if your child’s privacy is more important than that droopy diaper pic. For older children, ask before posting images of them. Even if you’re dying to post all the cute things they say and do, you’re sending a strong message to them that not everything must be shared on social media.

Think safety. Don’t turn on your geo-locator. Don’t advertise you’re on vacation. Don’t friend people you don’t know. These are generally good tips for all of us, and important for children to model. Be clear with your child that despite the term “Facebook friend,” not everyone has the best intentions when roaming social media sites.

Don’t bully. We may not even think we’re being mean, but it really doesn’t take much to harass or insult someone on social media. Don’t engage in activities such as “subtweeting” – referencing someone without actually tagging them. Also, platforms that allow you to send anonymous messages can be just as destructive. You may tell your children not to be bullies in school, but if you’re doing it in the social media sphere, it can be equally hurtful.

Being bullied is frightening for a child. Know the signs to watch out for.

Watch your tone. Humble-bragging, incessant complaining and cryptic postings are irritating to readers and set a bad example for your kids. You’re not expected to be happy all the time, but make sure you don’t set a pattern for a consistently negative or bragging tone. Keep your postings balanced and authentic. Also, grammar and writing style do count. If you have to accompany an emoji with all your posts, maybe you’re not expressing yourself very well.

Do comment on and “like” other peoples’ posts. If you appreciate what others have said, take the time to comment or signal approval, such as a Facebook “like.” It shows that you are appreciative of your friends and concerned about their lives. The practice of responding to another person’s posting is especially important if you read someone is struggling with hard times. Expressing empathy is a critical value children learn from their parents.

Pick up the phone or better yet, go for a visit. How many times have you openly groused about someone not responding to a direct message on social media? Stop jumping to conclusions that the person is snubbing you (your kids hear your complaints). It could be your friend doesn’t check her account as often as you. So, pick up the phone or better yet, arrange to get together. Let your children know that there are many ways of interacting with people.

Keep your content interesting. Not all your postings need to be personal. Sometimes it’s just interesting to share an article your read or fact you just discovered (maybe even something you learned in HealthCalling!). Posting interesting content shows your children that you’re curious and connected with your world –behaviors that are always good to model online and in “real life.”

Social media can be a source of tremendous anxiety in preteens and adolescents, even when their parents lead by example. Learn how to set guidelines for your child’s online activity

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.


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