by Maggie Sonnek
If Jennifer Soucheray had a Twitter handle, it probably would be something clever like @JentheMamaHen or @MrsSouchRocks. But this third-grade teacher and mom of three teens doesn’t have a Twitter account.
But her three kids do. So, she and her husband, Paul, have had to find ways to monitor their social media use without being, “like, totes uncool.”
I asked Soucheray, along with a few others, to share a few of their tips and best practices when it comes to kids and social media. Here’s what they had to say:
1. Use social media to help your kids develop self-control habits
Whether it’s texting, tweeting or using Facebook, these parents tout the benefits of putting limits in place early. According to the Soucheray household, texting and Twitter are the most common ways their kids communicate digitally.
“We know their phones are lifelines to their friends,” Soucheray said. “They need these tools otherwise they’ll be ostracized. But as parents you have to develop parameters for what’s acceptable use.”
One way these parents have put boundaries in place? All devices are turned in to Mom and Dad before bedtime.
2. Validate kids every day, offline
Soucheray, who taught middle school for 12 years, says it’s extremely important to validate your kids every day. She said that’s one reason why Facebook and other social media tools are so popular — because we’re all looking to be validated. (Author’s note: Not going to lie; there have been times that I’ve fallen into this trap and checked in on a status update or picture I posted to see how many “likes” it has received. And when the number is higher or the comments are positive, for some reason, I feel a little better.)
“If a kid doesn’t hear she’s pretty or smart by someone who cares about her, she’s going to look for that somewhere else,” Soucheray said.
Dr. Robyn Silverman, a child-teen-development specialist and body-image expert, agrees.
“Teens are defining themselves during adolescence,” she wrote on her blog. “They are figuring out where they fit into their social world and hoping that others look at them favorably.”
Soucheray and Silverman say it’s important to talk about your kids’ true gifts.
“Make sure your children understand that their strengths — such as their kind heart, conscious nature or musical ability — are recognized,” Silverman said, “and really make a difference.”
3. Use the tools for good
One thing that surprised me as I chatted with parents and teachers is: Kids are using social media more than just a platform to post “selfies.” They’re also using it as a homework-helper.
Dan Willaert, a geometry and AP statistics teacher and Cretin-Derham Hall wrestling coach, tweets out reminders and practice problems to his followers on a regular basis.
“I’ll write out a problem, snap a picture and then tweet it,” Willaert said. He has a Twitter account for wrestling, too, and often sends updates about tournaments, schedule changes and snow days.
4. Be present
Soucheray admits she doesn’t have the right answer or the perfect balance for monitoring tweets and texts, but her one piece of advice is something all parents can take with them. And that’s simply to be present.
“Dig in and be there with them… be in the moment,” she said.
Maybe someday @JentheMamaHen will tweet out that advice to her followers. But for now, she has papers to grade and dinner to make. Her Twitter days will have to wait.
Maggie Sonnek is a writer, blogger, lover-of-outdoors and mama to two young kiddos. When she’s not kissing boo-boos or cutting up someone’s food, she likes to beat her husband at Scrabble.