Social media and the family

Moms are using social media every day. How do we make sure our kids are protected online?

By Yuki Hayashi

Social media's place in the Canadian family
iStockphoto.com
Just over a year ago, Burnaby, B.C., mom Shannon Fisher was having one of those mornings. "My 10-year-old daughter wanted to leave the house in an outfit she'd worn four days in a row. After asking her to change, I checked myself, because I wondered if I was unnecessarily enforcing my passed-down values about appearance," says Shannon, a content strategist and mommy blogger (truthfully.ca).

What did Shannon do? She took her predicament online, of course. "I posed the question to my Facebook followers, and we had a great discussion. In the end, I told her she could dress how she wanted, as long as she was clean. It was wonderful to get that kind of feedback from my community," says Shannon.

For moms like Shannon, social media provides the proverbial village needed to raise a child – something few of us have IRL (online lingo for "in real life") due to hectic schedules and far-flung families.

Wired moms
Canadian moms, who are enthusiastically embracing social media tech such as smartphones and tablets, are the most wired consumers in the country, according to the 2013 Canada Social Mom Report by BabyCenter. Here are the stats.

  • An impressive 88 percent of moms who are online use Facebook, averaging 10.7 hours of use per month, versus the general population, which averages 6.9 hours per month.
  • Moms between ages 18 and 34 lead the general population in their use of platforms including Tumblr (32 versus 18 percent),  Instagram (32 versus 19 percent), Twitter (29 versus 24 percent) and Pinterest (23 versus 14 percent).
  • Moms also lead the general population in their use of smartphones, tablets and streaming TV subscriptions (how else are we supposed to catch up on "Nurse Jackie"?).
As marketers scramble to cash in on the online habits of moms (we buy more online than other consumers and are highly likely to influence and be influenced by one another's product recommendations), we are embracing tech in a surprisingly traditional way: using it to talk to other moms to help us become better parents.

Social support and networking at 3 a.m.
"In the early days of new motherhood, I felt really lonely at 3 a.m. when I was nursing my six-month-old," says Monique Sherrett of Vancouver, who teaches online marketing at Simon Fraser University. "I turned to my iPhone, which is a great one-handed option for socializing, either with my workaholic insomniac friends or with other moms awake at that hour. Social media helped me feel less isolated and kept me connected to friends, family and even clients."

Although some critics decry the antisocial aspect of choosing texting over talking and using online communities over community centres, for many moms, social media helps build and maintain important relationships.

"We've moved across the country four times in the past eight years," says Dana Goldstein, a mom of two and the owner of a Calgary-based videography company. "Social media has been invaluable for maintaining communication with friends, family and clients. Whenever we settled in a new city, I turned to online communities to learn about our new neighbourhood, to find the best children's resources and to introduce my business to the community."

Guiding kids' use of social media
The flip side of all this online sharing is the potential to overshare, possibly with the wrong people. Establishing conservative privacy settings and disabling the location services on social media posts are basic steps we can all take to protect ourselves. But we also have to protect our kids as they make their first forays into the digital realm.

"As a wired mom, it's my job to stay on top of what's happening in the digital landscape. Things move quickly, so I don't expect teachers to educate my kids about the online world. [Teachers] are a part of that education, but parents can't abdicate responsibility," says Monique.

"Today's kids struggle with cyberbullying and damage from digital photos and videos, so I can only imagine the subversive ways wearable tech like Google Glass [might one day] be used for spying, tattling and bullying," she adds.

The training wheels have to go on early, says Dana, whose sons are ages 8 and 9. "My boys are completely computer literate," she says. "They started communicating online very early on, through heavily filtered, age-appropriate gaming. Earlier this year, I set them up with email and Skype, with strict orders to show me anyone new who sends them a message. My husband and I are honest [with them] about what some people try to do on the Internet. Our approach is not to frighten them but to educate them."

It's never too early to start these conversations, says Shannon. It's certainly preferable to starting them too late. Shannon's daughter is 11 and still thinks her mom is "the axis of the universe." "I want to leverage my cool factor while it still exists. Now's the time to get her involved in social media and teach her how to use it responsibly," she says, adding that she also initiates conversations with her daughter about new social media issues.

The eventual outcome? Hopefully these kids will, like their moms, use social media as a tool for enrichment and empowerment. "My sons see online forums as a fantastic way to connect with family and friends all over the world," says Dana.

Ultimately, it comes back to the village. We've found that collective in our laptops and smartphones. "I'll be relying on my community of friends to continue to help me raise my girl," says Shannon. "It's comforting to know my husband and I don't have to do this alone."

Read up on why moms need online friends, or read health tips from Canadian mom bloggers


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