Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (October 19, 2013)
Last month, a study came out by the Hong Kong Research Association stating that they found that of the 582 parents they interviewed, 75 admitted they use fake identities on Facebook to check their children’s Facebook pages. An associated study showed that 27% of children with social media accounts set higher privacy settings for their parents so that they would not be able to see their information.
Having spoken to many parents about their concerns over Facebook and other forms of social media, I can understand that parents are concerned. Sometimes children can be one way in person but can be another on social media. Perhaps using social media as a way of expressing inner thoughts and desires, some people can be vastly different online than in person. And it is a cause for concern, especially for parents.
However, saying that, I don’t think masquerading your identity to spy on your child is the best way of building a strong, trusting relationship. In the same way that secretly checking your child’s schoolbag doesn’t foster a healthy, trusting relationship. The intention may be good but the means used may not be the most effective in nurturing a relationship.
Checking on a child in such a manner implies that a parent does not trust his child. And if the child were to find out, it would cause them to do one of 2 things from the ‘fight or flight’ model: confront the parents and fight for rights to privacy or hide more from the parents by changing privacy settings. Neither of these situations fares well with a relationship.
The key to protecting and ensuring the best for a child is not to ‘check up’ on them but to establish a healthy stream of communication with them. When a parent-child relationship is strong, they will naturally tell you things without you having to spy on them.
Below are some tips to help foster good communication in a healthy relationship:
Maintain daily conversation
I remember when my mum used to pick me up from school and would ask me how school was that day. Sometimes there wasn’t much to tell but other times, I would talk non-stop. It was easy to share my thoughts and feelings because I had grown used to talking everyday. Relationships don’t get built overnight and they take time to nurture and grow, much like a plant. Building a relationship with your child requires daily effort and the best way to establish a relationship is to have daily conversations. It’s difficult to expect a child to be completely open and vulnerable in sharing with a parent unless there has been a routine of regular sharing. So talk every day and keep listening ears available.
“How was your day today?”
Often I hear parents tell me that when they ask their child how their day was, the reply is a monosyllabic ‘fine’. Having conversations with children is like an art and sometimes it requires great patience to dig deeper. Try not to let the conversation end at ‘fine’ but ask about specific things that happened at school, ask about specific friends, ask about emotions felt during the day. Go deep into their world to truly understand them.
Sometimes, as parents, we can get anxious about things that happen to our children. If your child tells you they did something wrong, sometimes the initial instinct is to be anxious and punish them. If your child tells you that someone else wronged them, the first reaction is to want to rectify the situation. However, getting too anxious or having big reactions may stop your child from sharing with you because they don’t want to see you overreact. Stay calm, listen and discuss before reacting.
Express your concerns
In a world that is booming with new technology everyday, there is reason to be concerned about social media. Cyberbullying is now a common form of bullying, privacy and safety are key concerns as children of a younger age are using social media and there have even been cases of young children looking at pornography. If honesty is the best policy, then be honest with your child about your concerns and why you want to protect them. Keeping it in the open helps your child understand the reasons for your concerns and also allows both parties to work together on improving the situation.
The best way to protect your child from the pitfalls of social media isn’t to spy on your child’s Facebook but to maintain a healthy relationship with open communication and trust.