Recent comments by Hollywood actress Kate Winslet suggest that she is keeping her kids away from all forms of social media for fear of them developing a distorted view of themselves and their body image. She told the Sunday Times in the UK that “it has a huge impact on young women’s self esteem because all they ever do is design themselves for people to like them,” Winslet said. “And what comes along with that? Eating disorders. And that makes my blood boil and is the reason why we don’t have social media in our house”. Aside from the fact that Hollywood, movie stars and glossy magazines have been doing a pretty awesome job of distorting reality for a good many a decade, I worry these sentiments, whilst seemingly noble, may be more fantasy fiction than a realistic way for most of us to live our lives.
Its kind of quaint to imagine a world where we sit together every night telling each other yarns and singing ‘kumbaya’. And we all love a good family monopoly session. But every night? Are we really to rely on the pastimes of generations gone by to continue to inspire, entertain and connect our children when we have created so very much more for them?
There is no doubt many children are relying too heavily on their social media feeds to boost their self esteem. Likes and shares have become the social currency for many a tween and teen. The effects of that can certainly be very damaging.
But should we really be espousing a life free from social media and screens? Not the televisions or the big screens of course, just the little portable ones?
As a mother, it is absolutely Ms Winslet’s prerogative to bring up her children in whatever manner she pleases. I imagine her world is vastly different to the one my children are growing up in for many different reasons and thus no doubt our parenting styles may also differ.
But here is why I don’t think it is particularly helpful, or realistic, to suggest to the rest of us that we ban social media from the lives of our children.
Social media isn’t going away: it just isn’t. And if your kids have friends, a job, a hobby, like art, music, reading, taking photos or meeting new people, then they are probably going to end up on social media at some point to pursue these elements of their lives.
Kids like to hang with their friends: we rarely went to the park, the playground or the corner shop where no other kids were hanging out. We went to the place where our mates were. Today our kids are doing that too. They are going to gather on the social networks where their friends are……to chat, flirt, gossip, share info and just ‘hang out’.
Banning this stuff is really hard: we all want what we can’t have don’t we? It’s like the kids at school who were never allowed lollies then went all crazy, sugar overload when they visited your house and sat there eating chocolate biscuits throughout the whole play date. Sure, as parents we need to be able to decide those things that are good and bad for our children and be able to put our foot down when we need to. But whilst my kids have access to the internet at school, on a bus, at a mates and from their back pocket, even if I wanted to ban social media, I’m pretty sure my efforts would eventually be exposed as fledgling and futile.
We’d miss out on the best opportunity to teach our kids: if our kids are going to continue to live and breath in mainstream society, then its pretty safe to say they will take up social media at some point. If they take it up they moment we deem them an adult and able to make choices, or move out of home, or if they have indeed ignored our pleas and took it up behind our backs, then we have missed an amazing opportunity to teach them how to do it well. To focus on guiding and supporting them, teaching and discussing. We would miss out on the many teachable moments that social media presents us with daily. We would fail to point out those that do it well and discuss ways others could be doing it better. We would miss out on another opportunity to connect with our kids and show them we are relevant to their world.
You can use social media and climb trees: now if you take a look at kids today, they still want to run and play and jump. Go to the beach, go to a caravan park, go to a sports field on any Saturday morning and you will see kids outside exercising and playing. It is usually the parents fear that prevents them climbing trees. We must therefore be more proactive in nurturing these things because the devices are distracting. I agree with Ms Winslet that “there are too many interruptions these days – and devices are a huge interruption”. But we need them to grow up in a world of balanced play, and we need them to know they can do both. We need to start early to ensure they know devices and social media are just one aspect of many elements that need to contribute to their learning and entertainment. If we do that, we have a far greater chance of ensuring they continue to modify their behaviours for themselves and stay in control as they make their way through adolescents and beyond.
Social media is certainly fraught with dangers. Whilst we may like to think we can shield our children from its perils and give them everything they need with books and board games, I think I will take on the challenge head on and give them the skills to be smart and safe wherever they find themselves online, and make the most of what this new world has to offer.