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The Balance of Public and Private Lives in a Social Media Culture

If you and your family can learn to feel safe and comfortable with social media, you can be your authentic selves online without creating a version of you that doesn’t exist.

Photo Credit: Adobestock

Love it or hate it, you can’t ignore it. Social media has become an integral part of our lives, especially for generations Y and Z. In 2017, 81 percent of Americans had a social media profile, and the number of users worldwide is expected to reach 2.5 billion this year. That’s a lot of people sharing their private lives online. And that can create problems if they don’t get the balance right.

We’ve all heard horrifying stories of children being groomed through social networks and going on to be sexually abused, exploited, or even caught up in child trafficking rings. This can be terrifying for parents who want to keep their children safe at all costs yet can’t deny them the right to use social media.

Being afraid to post doesn’t allow you or kids to share personal moments or join in the online conversation. Yet overusing social media can lead to feelings of loneliness and envy, rather than complementing your social life. According to a report by the University of Copenhagen, spending some time away from platforms like Facebook actually increases your wellbeing. That’s because what you see online often doesn’t reflect real life.

To put it in the words of Phoebe-Jane Boyd, a content editor for an online media company, “Everyone else’s holidays are more exciting than yours, their relationships happier, and their jobs way more impressive than the crap you’re dragging yourself through every day to scrape enough money together for Super Noodles.”

If you and your family can learn to feel safe and comfortable with social media, you can be your authentic selves online without creating a version of you that doesn’t exist. Setting some parameters on social sharing is a good place to start. By selecting only the people you want to share certain things with, such as the death of a family member, or news of a pregnancy, you can post freely, rather than broadcasting the news to your entire network.

And when it comes to your kids and their relationship with social media, it’s important that they learn early on how to protect their privacy. The more involved you are with your child and their use of digital devices, the better. Here are a few tips for getting the balance of public and private life right in our social media culture.

Lead by Example

How you use social media and screen time yourself will set an example for your children. Before you start scrolling through your smartphone over dinner, stop to think about the message your sending to you kids. According to a survey by Danish think tank, Digital Youth, young people are “always on” thanks to their smartphones, with one 17-year-old boy stating that “one’s life is not just pictured on Facebook. It is Facebook”.

The average American adult now spends around five hours a day on their smartphone. If this pattern is transmitted to our children, they will soon become digitally distracted and their online life will begin to merge with their offline life, as the Danish teen observed.

The Value of Privacy

It’s important to make your children aware that each time they go online, they’re leaving a digital footprint. It’s not enough to forbid them to post videos of them dancing on YouTube or photos in swimwear. They need to understand that each time they leave a comment, or give out their email address, they’re gradually eroding their online privacy.

Be sure they use a platform that keeps the messages they send and information they upload inside the platform, and won’t randomly appear in a Google search, like a Twitter comment or something said in a forum.

Jokes Can Backfire Online

Almost 43 percent of kids have been bullied online, with 68 percent of teens agreeing that cyberbullying is a serious problem. Make sure your kids understand that what they post online can live forever and that jokes can backfire. Even when deleted, posts and images can be cached and searchable. Kids must post responsibly and also understand that jokes online are not always received in the manner intended.

Treat People Online as You Would in Real Life

This is probably the most important point of all in striking the right balance of pubic and private in our social media culture. If someone speaks to you in real life, for example, it’s rude not to reply. The same applies online. That nasty comment you left on your friend’s feed, would you have said it to their face? Treating people online as you would in real life is essential if we’re to keep using social media responsibly to enhance our lives, rather than to disrupt them.

We can’t go back in time and keep our kids from spending evenings watching videos online, chatting to their friends and posting selfies. This is the culture that we’ve created. But we can teach them to be responsible about their behavior and limit their usage before it affects their grades, self esteem, or gets them into serious trouble. 

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