Several weeks ago, I was talking with one of my teenage daughters while she was on her smartphone browsing her social media. I asked her how her day went at school and then she smiled and laughed about something that was posted on her social media. I mentioned to her that I didn’t think she was really listening to our conversation. Suddenly, she put her phone down and told me that in school that day one of her teachers taught her class about proper etiquette for smartphone use. This wise teacher asked a class member to come to the front so that she could ask a few questions. After asking a question, she looked down at her phone while this student answered her question. Then she put her phone down, asked this student a question, and listened intently. The class responded that they felt like their teacher was really listening to this student only after she had put her phone down. After my daughter related this experience at school with me, she put her phone down and we had a meaningful conversation, uninterrupted by social media.
As parents of 10 children who now range from 8 to 26 years of age, my wife and I have had many discussions about the appropriate use of social media within our family and our specific circumstance. As our family has grown over the past 28 years, social media has vastly expanded its influence in our society. As such, we have come to realize that having a family social media plan is essential in helping our family function. Parents have the responsibility to lead by example and model appropriate use of social media. One important way that we can guide our children in their proper use of social media is to have a family social media plan.
Ideas to consider in a family social media plan could include the following:
I have found it beneficial to spend moments of one-on-one time with my children in simple activities that involve the use of our hands while still being able to carry on a conversation. This removes the distraction of social media on our devices, invites eye contact, and facilitates listening that has strengthened our relationships. Activities such as playing ping pong, playing basketball, swinging at the park, playing a duet on the piano, throwing a softball, doing the dishes together, preparing a family meal, or working together on household chores enables us to pull away from our devices and social media to spend time communicating and talking together.
Children can be encouraged to spend a portion of their own money to purchase their smart phone and then to pay some of the monthly costs associated with their having a phone with internet access. This can help children understand that constant access to social media involves costs of money as well as our precious time.
Designate media free times such as breakfast or dinner.
Place our phones down or set our computers aside when we are talking with each other.
Provide supervision such as co-viewing and time limits that work for each family’s individual needs. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents and caregivers develop a family media plan that takes into account the health, education and entertainment needs of each child as well as the whole family. At www.HealthyChildren.org/MediaUsePlan, the AAP has prepared The Family Media Use Plan tool to assist families.
Developing and implementing a family social media plan can strengthen your family and personal relationships by setting appropriate limits for social media use. For me and my family, this endeavor has been challenging, but it has also been worth the effort.
David S. Bush, MD
Canyon View Pediatrics