A few days ago I wrote a short paean to Twitter.
Today I’ve been involved in quite a lengthy and thoughtful discussion about social media in general, including dangers and worries and safety issues, the questions it raises for Foster Carers and fostered children, and the implications for safe care, planning, and all so on and so on.
There is no question at all in my mind: changing technologies, changing expectations and experiences and understanding of technology, and the uneven recognition of the reach and possibilities of social technologies, collectively raise serious questions and worries for everyone involved in different areas of safeguarding.
I decided long ago that if nothing else required me to work as hard as I could on my communication and trust with any future child, the dangers of social media would make that demand on me all on its own. I can’t see that authoritative veering-towards-autocratic parenting will ever successfully stop teenagers and even younger children seeking to explore social media. Yes you might succeed in driving the experimentation under the radar – but I hesitate to believe you have the option of eradicating it.
It therefore seems to me that really there is only one choice: putting in place every building block beforehand in the hope that somehow you manage to carry on communicating through the hard times. (Well I am allowed to hope am I not?!)
Ultimately for me social media and other communication and interactive technologies are here now. Yes they will change in form – and often our children may well be more dextrous than we are in both keeping up and in linking them to age-old behaviours (yes sexting and Snapchat and Ask.fm are terrifying – but teenage sexuality in and of itself is not a new phenomenom) – but they are very clearly here to stay.
Yet I’ve made no secret in this blog, or in my discussions with Social Workers, at Panel and even at work and with family: Twitter has been one of my very best sources of learning, of friendship, of mentoring, and of common understating.
Like nearly everything in life – although there are limits to this philosophy – social media is about what you make of it.
Social media can be a means of bullying, an avenue for exploitation, a challenge to privacy and an enabler of huge pain and distress.
Social media can also be a means of sharing, an avenue for learning, a challenge to isolation and an enabler of real friendship and support.
I shared, following our discussion of the worries, my view that the Twitter community in particular had enabled me to experience the most valuable vicarious learning I could imagine. I stand by and reiterate my earlier views: Twitter like all social media can be great.
For some of us today social media still barely features in their lives at all; I would speculate that that is the case for very few children however. As such it can be the case for very few parents too.
Ultimately it feels as if my role as a parent with regard to social media will be almost a microcosm of my whole role as a parent: to build balance and trust, to have all the conversations above, to feel the fear for my child but do it anyway: recognise risks, manage dangers, support learning, share joys, protect privacy, facilitate understanding, set boundaries, trust, communicate and do all of that with love.
Social media is after all the whole of life, just mediated through screens – and therefore just as scary and amazing as life is when it takes place offline too!