My goal as a mom is to raise successful, happy people. With each age comes challenges, and it is not news that some of today’s biggest challenges for kids growing up are technology and social media. As parents we are after our kids to limit screen time, get outside, read a book and participate in other non-screen pursuits. I recently asked myself the hard question: “Am I spending too much time online?”
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Gadgets, devices, programs and apps all grab my attention. This love of technology dates back to the Atari days. My sister and I spent hours trying to beat each other at Pong and then Pac-Man. My Walkman was a constant companion and before that it was my cassette player and the 8-track player in our family room. Social pursuits back then consisted of notes passed at school and long phone conversations on a phone tethered by a cord.
Fast forward to today.
My household includes a 13-year-old daughter and an 18-year-old son. I’m pretty sure it irks my son that I had to set up the laptop he got for Christmas. My Facebook post that got lots of thumbs-up and LOLs was, “Holiday tech support, Wendy speaking, how may I help you?” My daughter loathes my Instagram screen name. She even went so far as to change it on me. “Why can’t you just have Facebook like the other moms?” she has asked me.
Want to find me online? It’s easy — look on just about any social media channel. Some of this is necessary for my work and I explained that to my daughter. It did not change her opinion that it is “weird” that I have over 600 followers on Twitter. As I gave this more thought, I realized that maybe I was spending too much time reacting to the pings, beeps and buzzes coming from my phone.
I asked myself that hard question and I made the decision to cut back on my social media and screen time, just like I often ask my kids to do. You may be wondering where my son fits in to this. These days he spends time on screens, but now that he is older, he does not play video games very often and he doesn’t watch much TV. When not sitting in school, playing sports or working, he reads and is building a computer. My days of being more computer savvy than he is may be numbered. My daughter, on the other hand, was spending a great deal of time on Netflix, Instagram, Snapchat and musical.ly.
For the month of April I challenged myself to consciously reduce the amount of time spent on social media and on other online pursuits. I also decided to learn more about what was going on with kids on social media so I could help my 13-year-old learn to navigate what seemed to be becoming treacherous waters for young girls.
I informed my kids of my plans and got a response that both surprised and jarred me. From my 13-year-old: “That’s good, Mom. I don’t want to hurt your feelings or anything, but you are always on your phone.”
Step 1: Take the social media apps off of my phone
This has been a game changer. My email inbox, both personal and business, were overflowing and felt unmanageable. Spending less time on social media and more time managing other things made my online life feel a bit less out of control. I still spend time on Facebook and other social media channels, but it is not my go-to whenever I have a minute to kill. It is all too easy to get lost scanning through your timeline only to look up to find that hours have passed.
Step 2: Figure out what my kids — and yours — are doing online
I read American Girls and the Secret Lives of Teenagers by Nancy Jo Sales — in hardcover, not on my Kindle! The book’s chapters are titled to indicate the age of the girls she studied and wrote about in that chapter. The book starts at age 13 and shares the stories of regular 13-year-old girls from all over the country and their online lives and social lives. I hyperventilated through this chapter. Suffice it to say, there is stuff in this book that will make the moms’ jaws drop and make the dads die a little — or a lot — inside after reading what kids are up to. Boy, does that last statement make me feel old.
One of the overarching themes is that kids are spending so much time on social media and technology that they are not developing communication skills. Misunderstandings and typing things out on a keyboard that one would never say face-to-face are a daily occurrence.
FOMO — fear of missing out — is a side effect of social media that can be minimized by spending less time online. Let’s face it, everyone puts their best face out there on the social channels. It is rare to see the ugly side of life on social media.
My child is pretty easygoing and socially adept. She knows that not everyone can be invited to everything. I have been surprised and saddened to learn that there are girls who will target other girls and instant message them photos of what they are doing, typically something fun like a sleepover or shopping, that the target was not invited to. Occurrences like this were detailed in the book, and I have seen it up close and in person. The girls who do this give the Plastics in the movie Mean Girls a run for their money when it comes to how they treat their so-called friends.
We are only partway through this April social media and technology diet, and I already see the benefits. Too much of anything is never a good thing. I am looking forward to chronicling my vacation on my camera instead of with my phone and posting photos after the vacation as a way to enjoy the memories. Here’s hoping I don’t fall off the wagon with the screen diet as often as I have with Weight Watchers!