It can be very bewildering. Your normally cheery youngster gets all quiet one day. Then as the hours go by, they check their phone a lot, and get quieter and maybe a bit more sullen, and unwilling to do anything. And you can’t get word one out of them.
Of course, you’re relieved when things go back to normal — then you find out that the whole drama of “my life is OVERRRR” was because nobody sent them a snapback or a response to their Kik (equivalent to a “Like” on Facebook or a heart icon on Instagram). Meaning their life was — BORING.
So how do help your tween deal with this situation?
Julia Gabriel Centre CEO and principal of schools Fiona Walker says flat out: “Limit the time your children spend on social media. As a parent you must be aware of this and set healthy limits.”
She’s more concerned for her daughter (currently 9) than for her 12-year-old son since “the draw of social media may be more [for my daughter] than for him as this does seem to be so for girls”. Not for nothing are girls more noted as the “social ones”.
“My son does have Instagram and accesses that on his phone. But we have always encouraged playdates and make time for him to be able to spend time with his friends, we believe strongly the friendships and face to face interactions are what children need to develop social and emotional skills. I think my son actually prefers communicating in person so really only uses Skype and Instagram to joke with his friends or arrange to meet up,” she says
Therapist and counsellor Dr Hana Ra Adams agrees: “Children cannot regulate social media without adult help, they need adults to set limits and expectations with them.”
She explained that one reason that children aren’t good at controlling their reactions to technology is because of biology. “The frontal cortex is the area of the brain that helps us to control reasoning and understand the potential consequences of our actions. This part of our brain is not fully matured until adulthood. Without the ability to think into the long term and understand the potential consequences of excessive social media usage, children and teenagers need parents to assist in understanding what the benefits of dangers are of social media use.”
Her own three children are 7, 5, and 3, and currently do not use social media. However, she has ample experience in dealing with families, as well as in her current position with the German European School Singapore.
Here are six tips for dealing with tweens “hooked” on social media:
1. Walker reminds us to always keep the channels of communication open with our youngsters. She says it’s important to talk to your child about who they are chatting with or what people are saying, and talk about their feelings. And if they’re not talking right now, give them time — just be ready to listen to them when they are eventually ready to talk.
2. Both experts reiterate that social media is very artificial. Says Walker, “You have to help them realise that there are two different worlds, one where people talk and engage in real conversations face to face — real life — and another where people may post things to make people see them a certain way, or where they will say something they would never say face to face.
Dr Adams agrees: “It’s not real — many people on Instagram have come forward to show that their Instagram posts have been altered, sometimes heavily, to reflect an ‘ideal’ image. Whether it’s cropping out a picture by the sea to show the prettiest side of the beach and leaving the garbage pile out or taking 30 selfies to get the perfect angle to show the ‘best side’ of one’s face, the pictures that are posted are not a snapshot of real life anymore. Too much can be edited and adjusted.”
3. Dr Adams also notes: “Looking for gratification outside of yourself will always leave you vulnerable to outside approval.” Your child’s self-esteem needs to be more robust to help them survive in our modern world.
Walker suggests: “Keep your child grounded in real life by providing activities where they can feel successful and they can socialise with their friends.”
4. “Get your child to take a break,” advises Dr Adams. “It’s important for children to recognise that they need breaks from social media and from their peers at times. Constantly checking the phone for a new message or being part of an active group chat means your child never gets a break for form his or her individual thoughts or reactions to a situation.
“If there is classroom drama happening, by constantly chatting with friends the drama never goes away. Children can’t develop a different perspective for a problem if the problem is always in the forefront of their minds.”
5. The corollary to point 4 is this: Just as your child has a life apart from the phone/computer, their friends have families, chores, homework, CCAs, real-world social events and so on that could distract them from instantly replying. So help your child take a deep breath. And maybe offer to go with them on a fun outing or a favourite snack?
6. “Life is not a popularity contest — the number of followers one has or the number of likes you receive for a pictures does not mean you are or not popular,” says Dr Adams. “Don’t compare the number of likes you receive to someone else’s number of likes and find yourself less than they are.
“Post things that are a reflection of you and share something because you think it will be funny for your friends to see or it’s a quote that brightened up your day, not because you want to gain outside attention.”
Photo: ING Images