“I really love middle school kids. I have two of them! If you have been through middle-school parenting, you may have noticed what I see: Strange things seem to happen to a tween’s brain the first day they walk into middle school.
One might sum up their main goals in life this way:
To be funny at all costs. (Hence, the silly bathroom jokes, talking at inappropriate times in class, and the ‘anything it takes to be popular’ attitude.)
To focus on SELF — their clothes, their nose, their body, and their hair.
To try new things. They are playing ‘dress up’ with their identity, trying on things to see what fits. They are impulsive and scattered, they are up and they are down, and it even seems that they have regressed in their development on their quest for independence.
As the parent, you are changing, too, as you enter the stage of parenting when you quickly depart from the naïve platform of, ‘my child would never…’ to the realization that, ‘I’m sure my child did that. I’m sorry and please excuse his behavior. He is going through a phase.’
Your list of daily parenting instruction may include statements like:
‘If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all!’
‘How many times do I have to tell you not the use that word?’
‘Stop flipping that bottle!’
‘Stop burping the ABC’s!’
‘You’re acting like a 2-year-old.’
‘What were you thinking?’
Then, it happens. Maybe because we are exhausted from their constant begging for a phone, or because we think that all their friends have one, or because we want to upgrade ours to the latest model…we cave. We act on impulse. Our brain seems to regress like theirs, and we give them our old smartphone.
And with that one little decision comes the world of social media access—something we haven’t thought about and something none of us is prepared for. Because the midbrain is reorganizing itself and risk-taking is high and impulse control is low, I can’t imagine a worse time in a child’s life to have access to social media than middle school. Here are just a few reasons why:
1. Social media was not designed for children. A tween’s underdeveloped frontal cortex can’t manage the distraction nor the temptations that come with social media use.
2. You cannot teach the maturity that social media requires. I hear parents say that they want to teach their child to use social media appropriately, but their midbrains are not developed yet. Like trying to make clothes fit that are way too big, children will use social media inappropriately until they are older and it fits them better.
3. Social media is an entertainment technology. It does not make your child smarter or more prepared for real life or a future job.
4. It is not necessary for healthy social development. It is entertainment attached to a marketing platform extracting personal information and preferences from your child, not to mention hours of their time and attention.
5. A tween’s ‘more is better’ mentality is a dangerous match for social media. Social media encourages them to overdo their friend connections like they tend to overdo other things in their lives. Does anyone have thousands of friends?
6. Social media is an addictive form of screen entertainment. Like video game addiction, early use can set up future addiction patterns and habits.
7. Social media replaces learning the hard social ‘work’ necessary for success. The use of social media greatly lessens opportunities requiring children to practice dealing face-to-face with their peers, a skill they need to master to be successful in real life.
8. Social media can cause teens to lose connection with family. They view ‘friends’ as their foundation and since the brain is still being formed, they need healthy family attachment more than with their peers. It is just as important now as when they were preschoolers.
9. Social media use represents lost potential for teens. The teen’s brain development is operating at peak performance for learning new things. Studies show that it is nearly impossible for them to balance it all and teens waste too much time and too much of their brain in a digital world.
10. Do any of us wish we had started earlier?
So, how can kids slow down?
First, we need to slow down and rethink what we are allowing our kids to do. We need to understand the world of social media and how teens use it differently from adults. Here are a few tips that work well:
Delay access. The longer parents delay access, the more time a child will have to mature so that he or she can use technology more wisely as a young adult. Delaying access also places a greater importance on developing personal authentic relationships first.
Follow their accounts. Social media privacy is a lie: Nothing is private in the digital world, and so it should not be private to parents. Make sure privacy settings are in place but know that those settings can give you a false sense of security. Encourage your teen to have private conversations in person or via a verbal phone call instead if they don’t want you to read it on social media.
Create family accounts. Create family accounts instead of individual teen accounts. This allows kids to keep up with friends in a safer social media environment.
Allow social media only on large screens. Allow your teens to only use their social media accounts on home computers or laptops in plain view, this way they will use it less. When it is used on a small private phone screen they can put in their pocket there are more potential problems with reckless use. The more secret the access, the more potential for bad choices.
Keep a sharp eye on the clock; they will not. Do you know how much time your child spends on social media a day? Be aware of this, and reduce the amount of time your child is on social media across all platforms. The average teen spends nine hours a day connected to social media. Instead, set one time each day for three days a week for your child to check their social media. Do they benefit from more time than that?
Plan face-to-face time with their friends. Remember that they don’t need 842 friends; four-to-six close friends are enough for healthy social development. Help them learn how to plan real, in-person, social get-togethers such as a leave-phones-at-the-door party, a home movie night, bowling, board games, cooking pizza, or hosting a bonfire. They crave these social gatherings so encourage them to invite friends over and help them (as needed) to organize the event.
Spend more real non-tech time together. Teens who are strongly attached to their parents and family show more overall happiness and success in life. They still need us now more than ever. It is easy to detach from them: Teens can be annoying! But attaching to family allows them to detach from the social media drama. Your child needs to feel like they can come home and leave the drama of their social world behind for a few hours. They want you to help them say no to social media and yes to more time with the family. They are craving those moments to disconnect, so make plans and encourage this at home.
Don’t give that smartphone all the power in your home; help tweens choose healthier forms of entertainment. They have the rest of their life to be entertained by social media, but only a limited time with you.”
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This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Tales of An Educated Debutante of Edenton, North Carolina. You can follow her journey on Facebook and Instagram. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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