by Sharon Cindrich
So, your teen is on MySpace or Facebook and you are, too. Before
you "friend" your kid, keep some basic rules in mind:
Don't make comments about everything you see-and believe me,
you'll see a lot. Bad language. Suggestive photo poses. Links to
crude humor. It can be hard to keep your mouth shut. But try. If
the bad language and links are coming from your child, by all means
call them out on it. But do it face to face and in private; never
post a reprimand on their Facebook. Remind them that what they post
can hurt them if they're not careful.
By the time you're ready to cut the digital apron strings,
you'll have a good vibe for how your teen is socializing online.
And she'll know you understand, too. Your reminders and interest
will let her know that even if you aren't a friend on Facebook,
you're a supportive force at home if she needs your help.
media is a part of life-and parenting-today. If you can't beat 'em,
Valerie O'Connor initially joined Facebook to find grade school
friends for an upcoming reunion. Now the stay-at-home mom of two
from Clarendon Hills logs onto the site about three times a day. "I
use it to share pictures of my kids with family and friends, to
reconnect with lost friends and to keep in closer contact with my
good friends," says O'Connor. "It helps me feel more connected to
those I can't speak with regularly."
What about you? Whether you're just getting the hang of Facebook
or have your own Twitter account, chances are you're using some
kind of social media. That's part of life-and parenting-today.
"Social media is just the new way that parents can connect
socially, the new way that they share and the new way that they
communicate," says technology and parenting expert Sharon Cindrich,
author of A Smart Girl's Guide to the Internet (American Girl
Publishing, 2009). "It's not that different from the socializing
we're used to in real life but it allows us a farther reach and
anytime connections-and more opportunities to connect. For example,
in the past, you wouldn't connect with your high school folks but
now you will because you see them on Facebook."
Whether you work outside the home or not, social media provides
additional benefits to parents of all stripes. "Where we used to
connect over the backyard fences, the social dynamic has changed,"
says Cindrich. "More parents are working or working different hours
and it's harder to just walk out your door and find groups of
parents you can hang with or ask a question."
Say you're a single parent, or an adoptive parent or a parent
raising a child with a health issue or learning disability. Social
media gives you multiple opportunities to connect and exchange info
with parents dealing with similar issues. Ask a question, and
you'll be amazed at what you can learn from your online
O'Connor says she's gotten great craft ideas, menu tips and
medical advice from friends online. "In fact, a couple of weeks
ago, my son was very sick-puking and not able to keep any fluids
down at all. So in my status update I asked if something was going
around and how to get him to take fluids," she says. "By the end of
the day I knew that a stomach bug was circulating, how long it
would last and what worked for my friends' kids."
If you only use social media for work purposes (such as using
Linked In for career networking), it may not impact your role as a
parent. But for most moms and dads, the time you spend online may
impact your kids-whether you realize it or not.
"The way you use social media, the time you spend doing it, the
photos you pick, your status updates and posts-your kids are
picking up on that and absorbing it," says Cindrich. "So, for
example, if you're making fun of someone's post or photo, that's a
behavior they're going to note and possibly repeat."
It's not only your attitude toward social media but the way you
use it that affects you and your kids. That's why it's important to
be aware of your "digital image," says Cindrich. "You have to be
thoughtful when you're choosing what you're putting online and
think about how that's going to impact your family."
In other words, posting about your wild night at your high
school reunion probably isn't a wise idea, nor is bashing your
husband because he forgot to pick up your daughter from her play
Still, social media lets people stay connected more easily than
Andrea Cummings, a customer service representative, says she
enjoys the games on MySpace and Facebook but also uses the sites to
keep up with friends, family and former classmates. "I admit I
check it at least once a day if I can," says Cummings, mother of
one who lives in Lynwood. "I use it to keep in touch. And I love to
see and share all the precious moments … that I cannot be there
So what's the right approach to social media? It all depends on
you. "There are absolutely no rules," says Cindrich. "Some people
only use it for their private lives, some use it only for their
work lives and some do both."
The amount and types of posts you make will also depend on you.
Take today. On Facebook's News Feed this morning, I saw friends
post about their kids' latest milestones, current work projects and
relocation plans. I read posts asking for advice and sharing new
photos. I learned what was going on in the world and reconnected
with friends-without even leaving my chair.
But that's one of the drawbacks of Facebook and its ilk. If
you're obsessed with rescuing lost farm animals online or mastering
Mafia Wars (an addictive online game) but haven't seen an IRL ("in
real life") friend in days, it may be time to step away from the
keyboard-at least for now. "It's really important to strike a
balance," says Cindrich. "Personal social interaction-whether over
the phone or meeting face-to-face-is important for your
relationships and happiness."
Stay-at-home mom O'Connor considers her Facebook time "a little
"It's a balancing act, though. It's easy to spend a lot more
time than I should on Facebook," she says. "A drawback to Facebook
in general is that by knowing what people are up to on a daily
basis, we're less inclined to call each other or use other means to
see how people are. It's a lot easier to post a happy birthday
message on someone's wall rather than call them and say happy
birthday, which I think is kind of sad."
But it's clear that social networking is here to stay-and can
facilitate and build IRL relationships as well. "We used to think
of social networking as the online or not quite 'real life'
experience but it is," says Cindrich. "It's a regular way of
communicating. It's a very natural and normal evolution of our
social interaction and it's important to embrace it to a certain
extent and take advantage of the opportunities that are there."
Despite the drawbacks to Facebook, O'Connor agrees. A relative
newcomer to the Chicago area, she admits it's been hard to make new
close friends locally. "Additionally, I am a stay-at-home mom and
as a result feel a bit isolated at times-lonely occasionally," she
says. "Facebook allows me (in a very small way) to feel less
alone. Plus I've been able to reconnect with people who were just
acquaintances in high school, but because of common ground now
(being moms, etc.) we've become friends-in an actual way, not a
Kelly James-Enger lives in Downers Grove, where she uses
Facebook to brag about her kids, stay in touch with friends and
family and avoid deadlines.
Kelly James-Enger is a former lawyer, a mom of two and a freelance writer.
See more of Kelly's stories here.
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