Parenting in the Virtual World: Tips and Taboos

Ways to communicate virtually with children.

By Sharon Oddy on September 18, 2013

In years gone by, some parents may have resorted to snooping through diaries and drawers to get a sense of what was happening in their child’s lives. Thanks to social media, however, parents no longer have to resort to covert operations to get an inkling of what’s going on with their kids. 

Social platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram allow for a peek into a child’s interests and their daily comings and goings. Interestingly, a recent study by Brigham Young University shows that being a passive observer and appropriate engager is good for family bonds and can enhance a parent’s in-person relationship with their child.

“The study found that adolescents reported feeling more connected and more warmth from their parents as a result on their online relationship,” said Sarah Coyne, associate professor and lead author of the study. “Engaging online also provides children with another way to receive positive reinforcement from their parents. When parents like a status, play a game or watch a video that their child recommends, it allows them to connect in more than one way.” 

Just like any relationship, the parent-child online relationship also takes work. Parents need to keep pace with the evolving social whims of their children and their always connected lives. For many, once they think they have a new social platform figured out, their child is off exploring the next new thing. 

“It’s important for parents to be media savvy and to know where their kids are. If you really want to stay involved with your kid, you can’t be afraid to learn new technology, to learn new websites and to know where your teen is,” Coyne said.

Parents, of course, need to be conscious that even though they have real-time access, they should set boundaries that allow their children to grow and develop into adults. They should be mindful of social taboos like posting embarrassing pictures or videos of their children. A mutual online respect and clear and open communication is necessary to keep the parent-child social experience going.

“As parents, it is important to know what your child is doing, who their friends are or what are they watching,” said Kathleen Kolaritsch, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, child and family supervisor, NewBridge Services, a community-based mental health provider in New Jersey. “I think devices, when used appropriately, can help parents keep tabs on their kids.”

But, Kolaritsch warns that a family’s online connections must be guided by the relationship a parent has with their child.

“I work with parents and children all of the time, and a majority of the work I do is helping them to establish healthy boundaries,” Kolaritsch said. “If parents have concerns about behavior changes or if they think their child is being bullied, then I would encourage them to be more involved. If things are fine and there are no worries or concerns then I think keeping an appropriate distance is the right approach. As my grandfather always used to say: ‘Everything in moderation.’”