By: Stephanie Mihalas, Ph.D, NCSP
The rapid pace of technological change in our society has introduced new questions regarding the effect of technology on how people relate to each other. In my private practice, where I work with children, adolescents and families, I deal with challenges involving social media and mobile technology all the time. Whether the issue is social media usage, non-stop texting, or spouses who seem glued to their smartphones, many families are grappling with questions about technology.
Here are my thoughts on the influence of social media and mobile technology on family dynamics:
- With more and more younger children getting or using smartphones, it is increasingly important that parents take an active supervisory role regarding the content children are accessing, in terms of websites, games and social media usage.
- Social media has opened up a significant new vector for bullying, since children can be easily harassed online. Social media sites make it easier for teens to engage in social bullying behaviors such as spreading rumors and manipulating friendships. It is strongly advised that parents take an active role in keeping up to date with their children and teens’ social media usage and online lives so that they can monitor whether trouble is brewing.
- Much attention gets paid to kids’ social media and tech usage within families, but few people are talking about the fact that parents are often just as immersed in these worlds, if not more! Often times parents can be so attached to their smartphones or tablets that they neglect to give their children enough quality attention and face-to-face play. Playing video games with the kids once in a while is nice, but getting on the ground and building a fort with them is even better.
- When both children and parents are active social media users, boundary issues frequently come up. What is appropriate for a child to see of their parents’ social media presence or activities? How can parents supervise their children’s social media and internet usage without the child feeling invaded or inundated? These are questions that are best addressed via open, honest and respectful discussion between parents and children *early*, before problems or negative feelings arise.
While seemingly each generation witnesses new leaps in technology which ushers in new and unforeseen communication and boundary issues, some things remain the same. Children and adolescents still need parents to provide proper supervision, guidance and well-maintained boundaries that are appropriate for their age and maturity level. Parents still need to have their own hobbies, social lives and privacy. And families still need to communicate about disagreements or thorny questions with respect, patience and empathy. No matter what changes future technology might bring, some things are unlikely to change.
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