Digital Parenting – Navigating Your Child’s Social Media Use

Do you know what your child is exposed to online? Ever wonder just who your child is communicating with through all their different social media profiles? As parents, we realize that our children are our trust and responsibility. Prophet Muhammad said: “Every one of you is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock.” (Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, 6719). But what does it mean to parent and be a positive influence in today’s constantly changing world that increasingly includes digital space? The Family and Youth Institute has prepared this Digital Parenting Toolkit to give you practical tips on how to have a more proactive role in directing your child’s social media presence and use. This toolkit includes resources in the following categories:

  1. Keeping lines of communication open with your children
  2. Being a digital mentor to your children
  3. Managing your “digital footprint”
  4. Reflecting values in the digital world
  5. Researching before approval
  6. Learning about privacy settings and monitoring tools
  7. Setting and enforcing a family media agreement
  8. Modeling good digital citizenship yourself
  9. Embracing digital collaboration & creation
  10. Other Resources Available

Remember that this is an ongoing journey – like parenting itself – but insha’Allah your struggle will be rewarded many-fold.

1. Keep Lines of Communication Open with your Children

Social media has become a basic communication platform in many teenagers’ social lives, and you as parents are realizing the need to be more involved in that sphere. Some major goals should be to teach your teens to be more mindful of how much they use social media as well as raising their awareness about the potential dangers of these platforms.

The first step, though, is to start a conversation and to keep it going.  Most social media policies have a minimum age requirement of 13, so this is usually a good time to start these conversations (though kids are getting access at much younger ages as well!). Here is a resource that talks about a few teachable moments and when and how to talk to your child about their social media presence.

Keep in mind that this is not a one-time lecture but rather an ongoing dialogue. In general, refer to the tips in this resource to bridge the communication gap with your teen. Examine together the pros and cons of social networking. Invite your child to reflect on and discuss with you any situations or challenges they or others may be experiencing on social media such as cyber-bullying, peer pressure, or fake accounts. Keeping these conversations non-judgemental and frequent is the best way to allow your child the room to come to you with their issues and to remain vigilant about these challenges.

2. Be your Child’s Digital Mentor

In an interesting study of more than 10,000 parents, social media researcher Alexandra Samuel states that there are three distinct approaches among parents to navigating technology and managing screen time: enabling, limiting, and mentoring.

Limiter parents are very strict with their children and tend to restrict the use of technology. Enabler parents trust their children to manage their use of technology and are very open to them being unsupervised. Mentor parents, on the other hand, spend time with their children online and with technology and in the process cultivate their child’s management of social media and other online communication.

While the hands-off approach of parents who give free-reign on tech use (enablers) may deprive these adolescents the opportunity to learn proper digital etiquette, rules, and boundaries around device use, the children of limiters (parents who only try to minimize all online activities) may have lacked much-needed guidance as well.

Technology forms the basis of how we, as a society, communicate and learn and will undeniably be a part of your child’s future. Shunning it, as limiters do, may leave your child less prepared for potential online threats and more likely to be engaged in online misbehavior such as accessing inappropriate content, cyber-bullying, or impersonating someone else.

Parents should strive to be ‘digital mentors’. Realize that technology habits need to be balanced and guided.  Be more involved in your child’s online activities, have set screen time rules in place, talk about online safety and proper social media footprint on a regular basis and listen non-judgmentally to your child’s doubts or concerns.

3. Have the “Digital Footprints” Discussion

Teach your child that just like we care about having a positive reputation and presenting ourselves in the best possible light, we should bear in mind that the online world is no different than the real world. In fact, because of the Internet’s digital permanence, we should be very particular about what we share online or the ‘digital footprints’ we leave behind. Digital Footprints are:

“… the virtual tracks that everyone leaves behind when posting information online. Photographs posted on Flickr, the personal information added to a Facebook wall, the book reviews or comments on blogs or other websites — all of these leave a footprint of where you have been, information about what you think, and details about who you are. Put all of those pieces together and someone might be able to create a pretty accurate (or inaccurate) picture of you” (Social Media: A Guide for Teens).

Invite them to think if they’d be happy or ashamed if their parents, grandparents, imam, future employer or even future children see their posts or read their chats. Above all, remind them of Allah’s all-encompassing knowledge and that nothing is hidden from Allah.

4.  Explore Together, Follow on Social Media and Reflect your own Values

    Be your child’s first friend on Facebook and follow him/her on Youtube, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat once they open their own accounts. Teach them from the beginning these easy-to-remember rules to staying safe while on social media.

    Share with them any interesting websites you stumble upon, especially those in line with their interests. Watch videos together. Download any new apps they have on their phone and try to see the world from their perspective.

    The role of traditional, digital and social media on creating (positive or negative) environments for self-esteem is examined as research shows links between body image and media. Consider your influence as a parent on fostering a positive body image in your teen when you maintain an honest open line of communication.

    As you walk through the world of social media together, invite them to reflect on things you read or watch together online. This is a wonderful opportunity to instill in them a critical view of their world and help them practically relate to our Islamic values and beliefs as you guide them on their way. Consider with them how these Qur’anic commands apply to our online world as well:

    Do not mix the truth with falsehood (2:42)      Do not break the promise (2:177)     Do not follow anyone blindly (2:170)      Keep the trust (2:283)      Do not be rude in speech (3:159)      Restrain Anger (3:134)     Be good to others (4:36)     Cooperate in righteousness and do not cooperate in sin and aggression (5:2)     Do not be arrogant (7:13)     Forgive others for their mistakes (7:199)     Never give up hope of Allah’s Mercy (12:87)     Allah will forgive those who have done wrong out of ignorance (16:119)     Speak to people mildly (20:44)      Keep aloof from what is vain (23:3)     Lower your gaze as believing men and women (24:30-31)     Enjoin right, forbid wrong (31:17)     Do not walk in insolence through the earth (31:18)    Allah forgives all sins (39:53)      Do not despair of the mercy of Allah (39:53)     Repel evil by good (41:34)      Do not ridicule others (49:11)     Avoid suspicion (49:12)     Do not spy or backbite (49:12)      Verify the truth of news before spreading it (49:6)     Those who have knowledge will be given a higher degree by Allah (58:11)      Be mindful of Allah and look forth to what you have put forth for tomorrow (59:18)     Treat non-Muslims in a kind and fair manner (60:8)     Seek forgiveness of Allah. He is Forgiving and Merciful (73:20)

    5. Search Online for Anything you’re not Familiar with

    Social media is the main platform of socializing for today’s youth. In fact, a study shows that young people are increasingly changing their online habits for the better, thus reaping some of the benefits of social media.

    However, it may seem daunting when you realize that your child is so preoccupied with an app you have no idea about. After all, this generation has literally grown up with social media.  That is why it’s important to change our perspective about educating ourselves and to get in the habit of looking up anything we don’t understand.

    Check out any new apps, games and/or websites which your child visits or is interested in. Explore useful guides such as the ones cited at the end of this toolkit. There are a wealth of tips, video guides, and explanations to help parents understand specific tools and generally be on the same page as their children. These tools are rapidly evolving and so it is important to always be looking for updated guides and tips as well.

     

    6. Capitalize on Privacy Settings, Parental Controls and Monitoring Tools

    Many teens (and some parents!) seem to be oblivious to privacy concerns on social media. It is important to educate ourselves before we can teach our children. Make them aware that personal information should not be shared and account privacy settings need to be adjusted. Utilize the privacy settings on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. Here’s a step-by-step guide to activating these settings and controls.

    Another area of concern on the mind of many parents is exposure to explicit online content as they worry what their children might stumble upon by accident through newsfeeds, ads, or otherwise. Activate the free or typically inexpensive parental controls found on all major operating systems and game consoles to better manage your children’s safe online experience.

    For older adolescents, move from control tools and settings to monitoring tools to check in on their actual social media usage and screen time. There are multiple tools available to choose from that allow parents to view their child’s contacts, texts (even deleted ones), calls, web search history monitor and social media activity.

    Here are tips that would make this monitoring step more acceptable and understood by your teenager:

    Let them know that you are using these monitoring tools beforehand (for example, when you first buy them a phone) instead of them finding out. This is particularly important in building and maintaining a trusting relationship.

    • Explain to your children that as their parent and caregiver, part of your job is to guide them.
    • Make it clear that the aim of monitoring tools is to safeguard them from potential cyber dangers or threats and that it is not a trust or suspicion issue.
    • Tell them that you’d simply like to be more involved in their digital social life to empower them with the right perspective and judgment especially in new situations.
    • Avoid singling only one of your children out, if possible. Use these monitoring tools with all your teenagers, if you have more than one.

    7. Set and Enforce a Family Media Agreement

    Creating and enforcing ground rules for digital use is an area that many parents don’t know where to start. However, there are multiple templates of digital safety contracts that give examples to what a media contract may look like. These provide a clear guideline for your children to adhere to, give you the peace of mind of knowing that your expectations are well-outlined and understood, and remove ambiguity from phrases like “be a good digital citizen”. According to Common Sense Media, an education and advocacy organization that promotes safe technology and media for children:

    A healthy media diet balances three things: what kids do, how much time they spend doing it, and whether their content choices are age-appropriate. Mixing media and tech time with other activities will help families find that happy medium. Use our Family Media Agreement and Device Contract to set realistic rules that make sense for your family so you and your kids can make the most out of media and tech time.

    You may want to customize your family’s media contract as you see fit. Feel free to add simple house rules if not mentioned, such as:

    • Times when devices are expected to be off or away, such as mealtimes (for mom and dad too!) or when guests are visiting, or to be handed in to the parents, such as at night before bedtime.
    • Places you would like to remain screen-free (bedrooms). It is a good practice to use devices in the family/living room instead.

    Once you’ve set the rules, and explained them thoroughly, have them sign their copy of the contract before enforcing the rules. Use this time to remind your children that you have trust in them and in their honesty to keep this promise to the best of their ability.

    Explain and agree upon reasonable consequences for breaking the rules. Make sure that you are clear and consistent about what those sanctions will be and follow through for them to remain effective. For example, let your kids know that they will lose certain online privileges if they break a rule. Consequences should be relevant, reasonable and agreed upon. Read more about how to set effective logical consequences.

    8. Model Good Digital Citizenship Yourself

    You may feel like your teen has some kind of technology addiction, but what about you? Do you find yourself “always connected”? According to a recent study, parents’ technology addiction was found to be the culprit to behavioral problems in children. Know when to unplug to demonstrate better online-offline balance. Additionally, there are specific steps you can take to break your ‘phone addiction’.

    Practice what you preach. The general rule is “more is caught than taught”; our teens will pay far more attention to what we do, rather than what we say. Otherwise, we risk diluting our efforts in instilling good digital behavior.

     

    • If one of the agreements in your family’s media contract is “no devices during family mealtime”, resist the urge to check your email over dinner.
    • As you teach your teen about road safety, refrain from sending that quick text message while driving.
    • Be their guide from early on carefully selecting what to engage in, read, watch, listen to or share.
    • Reject spreading rumors or sharing news from unverified sources. Help them identify real reliable information from fake or unreliable sources.
    • In general, keep an eye on your own digital habits — as well as theirs – and strive to be a good role model for your children.

    How about starting a fun family challenge? Take a social media break or even be screen-free for a week! Encourage your children to reflect on how their daily routine changed and to notice how less distracted and more focused they were. Visit your local library, go for hikes, explore new hobbies and, in general, new fun ways of spending time. Think of a way to reward your children for successfully completing the challenge. This break can have a positive influence on their media use later on, making them more mindful and aware of the time spent and the nature of what they engage in on a regular basis.

    9. Embrace Digital Collaboration and Creation

    Digital consumerism or passive intake of social media, advertising and content is likely the most common way everyone takes in the information they are receiving through their social media and other online platforms.  Exploring the Internet together with your children is a great opportunity to show them that there is more than just following popular culture, passively intaking advertisements or engaging in meaningless chats. With your encouragement, they can create quality content, rather than merely being digital consumers. Here are some ideas how:

    • Help raise their awareness about their own interests and hobbies. Encourage them to join specific groups where they can learn more about subject topics and start experimenting with say crocheting or tinkering with their very own programmable raspberry pi.
    • Foster proactivity and community service by showing them how to utilize event planning tools to help create food or clothes drives for the local community or a fundraising event for some disadvantaged community. Encourage them to (digitally) volunteer for a charitable organization online or support social justice advocacy group on social media.
    • Support them in exploring new MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) to join. These can help them gain clarity about potential career paths to embark on later in the future or introduce them to very useful new skills sets like animation design or photo and video editing.
    • For those interested in video games, you may want to explore with them games with level design features and later on introduce them to tools for creating their own games from scratch. Also, encourage creating basic animations with a moral using programs like Pivot or Stykz. Sharing those creations may even motivate those in their social media circles to experiment with these useful tools as well.
    • For your budding writers, encourage expressing their opinions, views, and ideas in their very own personal blog or contributing with an occasional post in the social media channels of their local masjid or Islamic center. Enrolling them in a creative writing course may greatly boost their self-confidence.

    Your proactive involvement may add another depth to their social media experience. Help them find their own voices and contribute with their own original posts, pictures, illustrations or videos.

    Encourage your children’s school to incorporate social media in education for a number of different reasons. Also, get involved with your school’s PTO and suggest bringing the “How To Be A Good Digital Parent” program to your school. The message that reaches young people becomes loud and clear when their educators and mentors (as well as their parents) are all valuable digital mentors emphasizing and modeling safer, more effective use of social media.

    In conclusion, parental involvement in the youth’s digital and social media presence is of paramount importance. Parents may take these practical steps today:

    • Talk with your children
    • Educate yourself
    • Activate privacy settings, parental controls & monitoring tools
    • Go online together & follow on social media
    • Start the screen-free challenge
    • Be a good (digital) role model
    • Encourage collaboration and any creative efforts

    Useful Resources for Teens:

    Parental Guides To Social Media Apps:

    Related Readings:

    This toolkit was authored by Lina Alnaggar, BA with help and support from Sarrah AbuLughod, MA, Madiha Tahseen, Ph.D. and Asra Hamzavi, MD. 

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