Facebook, Social Networks, and Our Kids

Kids on facebookRecently I’ve noticed our kids taking a particular interest in Facebook – or, more correctly, our involvement on Facebook. This wasn’t a sudden change on their part, just an observation of mine. I’d like to tie this into a story from my childhood regarding something my parents did for my brother and I.

My Dad was a four-pack a-day smoker. And in his words, he didn’t just light them and let them burn, but he smoked the tar out of each one of them (pun intended). My Mom didn’t smoke quite as much, but nonetheless, like many in the rising middle class of the 1960s, she smoked her share too. When I was about seven years old, my parents read that kids are more likely to smoke if their parents smoke. So they quit – cold turkey. Looking back on that, I am filled with awe and respect. It was not easy for them, but it was entirely cool!

Now let me give you a little background regarding my involvement with social media.

I first used email in the very early 1980s – long before people had even heard of the Internet. About 1989 I discovered CompuServe and Prodigy. I was a big user of CompuServe and was very involved in several forums. I developed my first web page, via CompuServe about 1994. At the time, there were only about 100,000 public webpages online. CompuServe began to open pathways to the larger Internet and about 1995 I abandoned CompuServe, along with about 100 million other people and set out onto the free-range of the frontier Interwebs.

I sent my first Tweet in the Fall of 2007 – in a deliberate move to explore social networking as a tool for leadership, outreach, and ministry. I resisted Facebook for another couple of years, but soon learned that Facebook is where the audience is. I now manage six Twitter accounts, and nine Facebook pages. I have several Google Plus pages, a YouTube channel, Flicker, Instagram, and a host of other apps to share stuff and participate online. I host my own blogs and have blogs scattered across networks. I consider myself to be one of the more informed social media users online. In fact, I have a fledgling social media consulting business.

Kind of like people talking about looking at something on their phone, but instead saying iPhone. How we got the message, or through whatever medium (eg; email, text, phone, cell phone, Facebook, or face-to-face), it really doesn’t matter – but we always seem to label the medium. Why is that?

Health LivingOne of my goals for my online involvement is to reach audiences that won’t be reached through traditional media. In this way, I’m a social media evangelist. Another goal is to stay ahead of the curve so I can provide informed and solid guidance for my kids as they enter their teen years. They are growing up to be digital natives and will need good guidance to avoid some of the booby traps out there.

RELATED STORY: Why are 5 million kids on Facebook if it doesn’t want them?

The other night, while driving across South Dakota in the dark, I listened to an interview Emily Bazelon, the author of Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy. What I heard scared the wazoo out of me.

  • First, I was reminded of social sites that I’ve not yet explored – and don’t want to.
  • Second, I realized I will never be able to single-handedly “stay ahead of the curve.”
  • Finally, after much reflection, I understood how my influence and example will pave the way for my kids.

Many of the sites mentioned in this interview, I’ve heard of and some, like Instagram, I use. But others, like Snapchat, Formspring, and Vine, I don’t use. First, I’ve heard that these sites are predominately used by teens and young adults; second, I’ve heard there’s a lot of sexting happening, and I’m not interested in being exposed to that; and finally, I’m just not interested in building a network of new followers. I already have about 6000+ followers on the sites I do use, I don’t have the time or inclination to go after a new audience. I suppose that’s a sign of old age, decreased testosterone levels, or sanity – I’ll let you decide.

As I thought about this later, it confirmed in my mind how our involvement is influencing our kids.

So, last night over a rare, but fun little dinner at Pizza Hut, I mentioned to my Wonderful Wife that I was rethinking our involvement in social media and Facebook. As we talked about this, our Darling 8yo Daughter seemed to show too much interest and was overly concerned that we should not end our involvement with Facebook. As I thought about this later, it confirmed in my mind how our involvement is influencing our kids.

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Too often our conversation revolves around stuff we’ve seen on Facebook. Not unlike how we would share things we heard at church, a book we’re reading, or something we saw on TV. However, because we don’t talk on the phone much, don’t watch TV at all, and we spend more time on Facebook then some of the other social activities, Facebook-related comments dominate in our conversation. For us, this has to change.

Then I discovered this interesting blog post on one of my favorite blogs: Walled-in: Life Without Facebook (I’ll let you read it yourself) – here’s an sample quote:

“As the theme song of Cheers told us, ‘making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.’ Perhaps it takes too much, and we would rather fall to the familiar comfort of checking social networks. But it’s a worthy effort, giving all you’ve got, in order to make your own way. The path you walk on your own, it’s a path worth giving your soul for. Your feet on the barely-tread ground, the fresh air of wilderness around you, and your own voice for company. It’s worth everything you’ve got.”

So, I’m considering several options, but I want to be clear, this isn’t about time, wasting time, or some of the other issues I’ve heard from people who’ve given up Facebook. Several of my pastor friends have quit Facebook  because they say it takes too much time. I personally think this is a mistake. Facebook allows a one-to-many conversation, as opposed to a phone call or text – which is one-to-one.

RELATED STORY: Beware, Tech Abandoners. People Without Facebook Accounts Are ‘Suspicious.’

No, this is bigger than time management. This is about instilling values in our kids where they desire something bigger than social networking and the Interwebs. By the age of 11 or 12, too many kids are chomping at the bit to be online. In fact, too many parents let their kids onto Facebook even before they are 13 and “legally” old enough to have their own account.

There is nothing inherently wrong with Facebook, and as far as social networks go, it is one of the safer ones, but it’s about values and what values we want for our kids.

We made the choice before we ever had kids to raise them in a home without TV, and we’ve never regretted that decision. There are worse things than sheltering one’s kids.

Some of the ideas we’re considering include:

  • Only check Facebook once a day and for only 20 minutes at a time.
  • Only be on Facebook on Sundays.
  • More carefully utilize friend lists and notification options in order to limit the number of people with whom we interact.
  • Eliminate Facebook completely.
  • Disconnect the Internet completely.
  • ???????

Do you have thoughts, advice, or stories of how you’ve managed this? Have you thought about this idea that your actions influence your kids’ future behaviors and thoughts? What have you given up in order to provide a better example for your kids? What would you give up if you thought it would help?


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