This week I want to bring together a few issues raised in previous articles to help us reflect on what we want for our children. Yes we live in society, but to what extent do we hold ‘control’ and how easy is it to let the push and pull of societies ever changing ‘norms’ win in terms of influencing our own child’s development?
I shared a harrowing post this week on English Speaking Mums and Dads that retold the story of one ten year old boy who played Fortnight and up until the incident had never used any of the social media sites. His parents eventually ‘gave in’ when they realised his Fortnight friends were using Snapchat to share strategies etc. and make the game more interactive with their peers.
This seemed an innocent and measured move from the parents point of view, but just 4 days after joining Snapchat, the boy started receiving pornographic pictures and videos. Luckily his parents spotted it and an investigation found that within those four days the boys details had been shared with 6 paedophile rings. This is not only sickening but shocking too at the speed with which this happened and now a 10 year old boy is receiving counselling and support.
This begs the question as to what extent we ‘control’ our children’s access to social media, mobile phones and even smart TVs. There is no straight forward answer because we as parents fall foul of our own needs – the needs to feel and be seen as ‘good parents’ whatever that is, as well as not having to face up to the moans or tantrums of the child we are saying no to! Parenting is tough!
I think it helps if we overtly educate ourselves. Our own parents, friends, teachers etc. will all have valuable input, but at the end of the day we know what values are important to us as a family. So, if we wish to do something different to the mainstream parenting regarding media, we are more empowered if we have educated ourselves first on the whats and whys.
The main aim of my articles each week is to allow ‘food for thought’ and to encourage the ‘one size does not fit all’ approach. So, this week, take some time to reflect on the role of the media and social media in our own families and if any one step taken is generally helpful, and within or moving us towards our values, or if this choice is potentially unhelpful or moving us away from our family values.
If we start from the point of view of sensitive parenting, we are probably on a helpful track. Sensitive parenting means acknowledging each child is uniquely different even if they deceptively seem the same as our other children… Each child’s brain is developing in the same general direction but at uniquely subtly different speeds depending on the environment and their own genetic makeup.
Our children come with a road map, but it is largely invisible to us, instead we need to be like detectives or scientists noticing, discovering where our child is developmentally at any one stage. Babies and children are also wired for mastery. They want to explore their world, but again it needs to be from their perspective at their pace. This is where the TV, iPad etc potentially changes the immature brain.
In a previous article I mentioned no TV/I-pads until the age of 2. This is based on the fact that the brain of a human is designed to remain curious and fascinated by the most mundane – the stripes on the curtain, a piece of dust on the floor. As babies they are natural scientists exploring their environment in intricate detail and the body is storing the sensations and emotions too.
They are literally building a future framework from which to interpret their world as they grow older. It is argued that introducing TV etc. too early, overrides the natural ability to stay with an experience, encouraging ‘quick fix’ stimulation as the later norm. But as you read this, is there a pang of guilt that if you stop your under 2 year old from watching TV programmes you are depriving them? Or if you mention to other parents that you have no TV etc. in the home for the under 2’s do they accept it or question your judgement?
But what about the ten year old that begs for social media access? The work of Gabe Mate may help here. You may have read in a previous article that if we encourage our children to detach from us too early, they naturally attach to a peer group. Whilst this is of course important for social development, at the right time, Dr Mate suggests that we lose our children too soon to the influence of peers. Their brains have not yet developed the critical thinking required to stay authentic to themselves in the presence of attached peers.
As a group they are more likely to make less well thought out or relevant decisions etc.
Whilst we cannot control the irresponsible adults who set out to groom our children, we can help our children by listening carefully and explaining why it is important to have parental controls on their social media, or ideally, encourage them to consider for themselves if they are ready for more social pressure from others, to sense their authentic selves and check out if they are probably only asking because “everyone else is”.
It also requires us to look inside and reflect on our motivation for ‘giving in’. Our intuition is usually spot on – so if we feel uncomfortable but cannot yet articulate exactly why, it’s probably a sign to hold off for a while, to learn some more….
I am not advocating a ban on social media or TV per se but suggesting that each decision is measured and informed by the unique development of each child within our own family context.