Relationships and Social Media

A complaint I hear more and more frequently from couples, parents, and clients is that social media is complicating their lives! The common scenario is that their lives were way too busy to begin with, leaving little time to share face-to-face interaction with family members, and along comes new and exciting advances in technology that have more and more people off on a path of “connection” AND “isolation” within their very homes! What is supposed to be good and make our lives better can, without careful consideration, suddenly carry our most important relationships off to “Never Never Land.” My father, if he were alive today, would exercise caution on this topic, telling us kids that everything is best in moderation….  The older I get the more I am certain that dad was a very very wise man…

The advances in technology have truly modified our society, both in positive and negative ways. Therapists are seeing an increasing number of situations where use of technology and social media take on a life of their own, undermining healthy relationships in countless ways. Not just with the kids, but with parents, too. When my siblings and I were growing up the “vice” was too much TV or too much talking on the telephone (in the kitchen pantry behind closed doors with someone pounding outside telling you to get off the line!). Now it is so much more… I suggest to clients just starting a marriage and planning for children to be mindful of the downside to available technology. Few marriages and family bonds can withstand the all-consuming nature of technology uncontrolled… We must all be educated and informed consumers regarding our social media options.

Here are my personal recommendations for maintaining healthy relationships without having things like computers, the Internet, Facebook, e-mail, IM chats, Skype, cell phones, text messaging, video games, TV, etc. take on a life of their own…

  • Make a commitment to keep your use of technology in check. Use all technology as tools that enhance your life and do not add distress or complicate relationships with spouses, children, significant others, or your work.
  • Couples, be responsible for your own social media behavior and accountable to your partner at all times.
  • Parents, work as a team in managing your family technology policy while raising your children. This avoids having the kids play one parent against the other. A united front is critical for a successful outcome.
  • Set boundaries and limits on use of all forms of technology — Internet, instant messaging, e-mail, cell phones, text messaging, TV, video games, etc.
  • Set and maintain appropriate expectations for mature and respectful use of technology in your home and work environment.

My bias is that there should only be one family desktop computer in a public room in the home, monitored and scanned by parents, and used on assigned time by all family members. None of our kids should have their own laptops until they go off to college (and at that point you pray that your children have integrated the lessons you have taught and behavior patterns you have modeled regarding social media use, because you no longer have control over whether or not the tools are used appropriately). I also do not believe that children should have TVs in their bedrooms. One television in a familiy room or den is adequate; maybe a second in the kitchen to catch news and weather conditions on snow days or during critical storms. No more.

As for cell phones, they have become the glue that sometimes keeps families connected in our very mobile society. Thus the cell phone to talk and text is good, but again can be abused. Texting and the advance to smart phones open up a whole new vista that is beyond our control. My solution is that each individual in the family who has a cell phone is responsible for paying their own bill and any related charges. No pay. No phone. Overcharges. The parents don’t bail the kid out. Want more features, figure out how to earn the money to pay for them. Can’t affort it? Cut back on services or discontinue.

I don’t recommend ever giving technology tools or features as a gift. They are tools that require healthy management and maintenance, which is an important responsibility that each individual must learn to handle appropriately. Too much gifting robs children (and adults) of learning important lessons and practice in becoming a responsible adult in today’s society.

All family members, children included, need to earn and take responsibility for the luxuries they want in life beyond the basic necessities provided by parents.

And while we are on the topic of taking responsibility for adult tools brings me around to a discussion about adolescent driving… I believe every adolescent and young adult that drives a car should pay for their own portion of the car insurance and the gas they need for personal travel. If parents make the open road easy, the children don’t learn how much it costs to be a driver in our society and how hard one has to work to have that luxury. Telling adolescents to comply based on our adult perspective doesn’t register with them… They simply do not have  the life experiences to “get” it. Freedom to be mobile and connect to the world is not a right, but a privilege that children and adults of all ages need to earn and not expect to have handed to them.

Guess you have concluded that I am a hard-nosed parent… I believe that to be otherwise does a disservice to children and adolescents, robbing them of learning about how the world really works. Life frequently isn’t easy. Kids need to learn skills at a young age that can sustain them through the rough times. If they never learn the hard stuff of life their survival as an adult is compromised.

A well-respected mentor and friend once said to his class — “Never do for someone else what they can do for themselves.”

Of course, if your children or family members have not had limitations and expectations set on their use of social media, expect that they will be displeased with your decision to change any rules or limits that you impose. Expect resistance and pressure on you to revert back to old patterns of function. Hold firm with your new plan… The pain you know today will be well worth the pain you will hopefully avoid in the future…

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