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.
This Post Has 22 Comments
I agree that it’s a great opportunity for education. I know some parents that managed to hold off until teens (no one could get past that) and found that their kids used the tools no more responsibly.
Yes I think it also comes back to the individual child and what they can developmentally, emotionally and socially withstand. Like all things some kids are more mature than others and age has less to do with the outcomes.
I’m a big fan of Kate Winslet but I think she’s being naive here. Her kids may well create accounts she doesn’t know about. I’d rather know ans monitor and place reasonable limits and talk about whaat goes on online.
Thanks Amy, I love Kate Winslet too, but I guess I just dont find these comments helpful, especially when most of my job revolves around educating parents to the good and bad of social media and the best ways we can teach our kids to use it responsibly.
I guess from her position, her point of view is a valid one. So much of the Hollywood lifestyle is rubbish and I would probably spout the same opinion if I were famous. I don’t know how old Kate’s kids are but no doubt things will change when they’re teens. It is very hard (bordering on impossible) to control a teen’s use of social media. I don’t like my kids using it but I can also see how this is the way modern kids communicate. It’s one of those things where you must stand back a bit and hopefully your guidance as a parent will keep things on course.
Her kids are fairly old (at least tweens if not teens) and I imagine they see a lot of Hollywood lifestyle despite what is happening on social media. You are so right that we have to do our best in our teaching and guidance and hope that we have done what we can to give them the skills and behaviours to stay on track.
Yes for social media. It is not going away and it is an important part of the kids lives. We have our rules around social media (most times I am good at sticking with it) and I find it also helps me stay more connected to my kids as they get older too.
Absolutely.. having some boundaries makes a lot more sense than trying to ban altogether.
I think it’s a bit silly if not irresponsible to bury your head in the sand and say we’re not doing social media.
For now it’s here to stay where it will still be Facebook (who knows?) but I think if you are open about it with your children, discuss the good and bad elements of it – like anything else, and keep a little eye on them then they should be OK. Just remember to keep talking to your kids.
Absolutely…..the very best connection our kids will have is the one they have with us.
I completely agree Martine. You raise many valid points but the one that strikes me the most is that opportunity that we have as supportive parents to build their knowledge and guide their behaviour when it comes to social media. It’s not going away so I feel it is best to be there to help them navigate it while also providing a balanced upbringing at the same time.
Thanks Kirsty, I think it is so important we use that time when we still have some control to educate and guide.
I guess it depends on how old her kids are. I can understand keeping them away up to a certain age, but after that I think education is key.
Yes certainly it would be good to shield them as long as you can but I think they are into their teens so it would appear pretty hard to maintain.
Very well said Martine! I totally agree that we need to guide and educate our kids because social media is not going away. People can even make careers out of social media strategy now. Who would have imagined that a decade ago xox
I know! It is amazing to think how quickly these changes have come about. Imagine what our kids could be doing for careers!
I agree with all your points, Martine. But I kind of wonder if what Kate Winslet is doing has a lot to do with the fact that she doesn’t want her children to also come across stuff that they write about her. The media in the past have been extremely cruel about her weight. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a kid of a celebrity. Whether you were allowed to be on social media or not, I don’t think you could completely avoid the tabloids.
Yes I could certainly understand from that point of view, but again I guess that is something that is always going to be there. Her main reason appears to be the self esteem and wellbeing issues pertaining to body image, which is certainly valid, but probably better to work on that independently of what is happening on social media.
Great post GF! Love your sensible and balanced approach. x
Thanks V x
I don’t have children but I’m always giving out solicited and unsolicited advice to parents about their kids on social media. I still maintain that the strongest and best course of action is to know the platform yourself, keep the communication about what is and isn’t appropriate clear and don’t be afraid to step in if your teen is suffering and shut it down for a while. LOVED this post. So strong.
Thanks so much Melissa…and great advice 🙂