Social media and new technologies have formed a new reality for parents of all ages; every mother and father deal with a situation not experienced by the parents of the previous generation. Therefore, knowledge in this area is scarce, requiring parents to actively monitor the effects these new technologies have on their children, remaining aware and considering the different intricacies of this new landscape.
One mother recounts how she takes photos or short films of her children and posts them on social media for family and close friends only and how she gets influenced by their comments on those pictures as well as the number of (Likes). She thought this was something her children did not know. However, she was surprised by her eldest child, who is just five years old, asking her, “What did they say about my picture?” The mother says: “I answered her enthusiastically and read the responses for her, but then I realized that my daughter acts in a certain way; to make me take pictures of her so that she hears the comments of others. I began to worry about her, as her self-confidence became dependent on the opinions of others, and she has no self-esteem for what she is doing and no self-desire in doing something.”
This story repeats in different ways with other parents. The ease of sharing with others has made parents generous in spreading information about their lives and their children without thinking about its consequences. This, on the one hand, makes children lose the sense of the importance of privacy and thus seek to share the details of their lives. On the other hand, the magnitude of the encouragement and comments that parents receive on what they share about their children on social media, makes them rejoice, and this applause itself becomes a goal they seek. This desire moves to their children as well, which leads to losing the value of human interaction and missing out on the goal of personal development and creativity, exchanged by seeking fame and impressing people.
“My son showed me one of the pictures he took of his friend while they were playing and he was laughing at the picture,” said a mother of an eight-year-old boy. “The picture encouraged me to laugh at his friend, as he strangely fell to the ground and the juice spilled on him. I told him your friend might not agree that you had taken such a picture of him.” He replied: “It doesn’t matter, it just for laughs”.
The mother continues: “I was amazed by his response, so I told him, of course, it is important to ask him, otherwise this is considered bullying. But he replied: You took pictures of me in embarrassing situations when I was a child, and many relatives still keep them and laugh at them. What is the problem? The mother realized that what she had done unintentionally was bad, which her son had taken as an example to follow.
Children are emulating the behavior and habits of parents with amazing speed, and, moreover, emulating their way of thinking and valuation of situations, building similar principals of life for themselves. The same applies to social media and how parents display habits. It is, therefore, important to constantly think about the following question with each behavior: “What does this behavior convey to my children?”
The current reality requires parents to think more deeply about the impact of their habits in using social media on their children, and how to protect them from its risks and misuse.
Dr. Rana Al Sairafi
President of “Be Free” Program
Bahrain Women Association for Human Development