Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Our Social Media Sabbatical

IMAGE : THE MOTHER LOAD | Our Social Media Sabbatical
I don't profess to be the perfect parent. Although I may at times make the mistake of striving for perfection, I often fall pretty short in the parenting stakes. Generally if I fall short, I always try and get up, dust myself off and learn whatever lessons there are to be learned. Then I come here and share these lessons with whoever wants to listen. (Or I eat a block of chocolate - whatever gives the most satisfaction). I certainly don't declare what parenting path I choose to be the best way or the right way but it's just... well, my way.

This post is perhaps one of those lessons I'm choosing to share - whether I'm right or wrong in my approach only time will tell.

So last week, Miss O and I agreed to her having one month away from her already limited amounts of online interaction. Actually, I imposed it but she agreed, quite enthusiastically which was surprising in itself. You see, lately, she's been a bit flaky and forgetful. I'm not saying it's entirely the fault of social interaction (I suspect hormones and high self-expectations may be playing a role too), but she's been making a pretty intensive beeline for whatever device gives her access to Instagram and I suspect that a habit is forming where it takes precedence over other stuff here in the real world. Lately, she's been forgetful and more vague than usual,  and I've found myself making an unusual number of extra trips between school and home with forgotten blazers, sports gear and piano books. Who knows what's really to blame for her forgetfulness given that all the expectations coming at her require her to be more adult than child in this pre-teen phase, but I'm looking into it and I'm starting with her online interaction.  We're calling it a social media sabbatical. 

I should be clear here - devices and online interaction are pretty heavily policed in our house. There are time limits, limits on what apps are appropriate, as well as limits on how much interaction is considered healthy. It's by no means open slather. We also have the golden rule that mum will invariably read whatever communication is taking place, as may the mothers of friends and maybe even teachers too, so we must always behave as though the proverbial "granny" is watching.  She knows this and in that regard I'm largely fine with what I've seen to date - that's not the issue. It's the skewed balance between time spent online with friends and time spent in the real world, getting stuff sorted. That is the main issue here.

Our month long social media sabbatical started initially as punishment by me deciding to remove her devices after yet another trip home to collect one forgotten thing or another. Truthfully, I blew my stack in a crazy-woman-head-explosion kind of way when two vital items were forgotten in one morning - it was not my finest hour. But then when I simmered down, it dawned on me that there was perhaps a better way to approach finding a resolution beyond a flat out ban. I mean the ban was coming, but I needed to make her feel part of the decision so she could see the reasons behind it. Instead, I sat her down and discussed with her what she thought was causing her lack of organisation and we both decided very quickly that it was the degree of distraction that the online world was bringing, especially given it's where all of her friends hang out nightly. (I remember being allowed to phone a friend after school - a twenty minute phone debrief was pretty much all we needed to keep up to date. Anyone else remember that?! Helloooo Gen X'ers!). So we jointly decided to see what would happen if she spent the next month a bit more offline, so to speak.

Everyone has their own way of parenting through the digital age and because I'm largely across the digital landscape myself, I'm not one to flat out prohibit online interaction in this early teen period. I figure that if you can hold the hand of child as they take baby steps into social media and take the journey alongside them, it can be a really great learning tool for lessons around privacy, copyright and how to be a good digital citizen generally. BUT. You have to be really engaged together as parent and child and if it's simply all too foreign or too much of a commitment for some, I completely respect the reluctance of families who shy away from it. I reckon it's better to avoid the social landscape if you can't participate and monitor things closely rather than permit social media and have nothing to do with your kid's interactions until something goes horribly wrong. 

Social media and the online space for interaction with others is not going to disappear so we might as well navigate it gradually together with our kids so that they can learn all the lessons that come with being in the virtual playground surrounded those they know, and eventually by those they don't know.

So - we're a week into our social media sabbatical and she hasn't missed it even once. Already she's talking about ways to better organise herself by creating charts and reminders, and she's spending more time playing like a kid in the real world. So my course of action seems to be having the desired effect and I've learned two things - flat out reactive punishment can sometimes be replaced by meaningful dialogue to reach the desire outcome, and in our house we need even less time online and more time in the here and now, where there's still time for her to be a kid. Pretty simple really.  (I'm also saving so much time not having to make those additional trips to school with crucial belongings - win!).

How do you balance the online interaction in your family? Feel free to share your tips in the comments below - there's so much to be learned from each other's attempts at finding the right balance.

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