My high school classmate recently posted an inspirational message at our Viber group thread, and one of the phrases that stuck in my mind was this: “Our children watch us and then they imitate us.” This led me to express a long reply to my classmates about parenting through social media, and the message is that it works if you make it work for you.
You see, my kids grew up without me being physically around – we live 6,557 miles apart from each other. My wife and I separated when my daughter was 13 and my son was 11. I saw them once a year and that definitely wasn’t enough. However, because time is always golden, I treasured those moments and made sure the conversation was well thought off and meaningful. But here’s the thing – we live in a time where we can become digitally connected, and because of today’s Internet age, I made sure my kids saw me in social media the way I wanted them to see me as if I was always around – not a stiff, old and depressing geezer but as someone who despite what has happened had life in him and is doing fine. I was okay with my daughter; as they say, girls mature faster than boys. But I was for some time estranged with my son. Still, I held on to the belief that what they saw me doing, they would imitate.
Is it wrong for children to see their parents post everyday stuff on social media? And… is it (also) wrong for parents to be online friends with their children? Of course not but there are unwritten rules and boundaries we must keep in mind.
Parents physically separated from their children have no choice but to provide visibility by way of social media. Lucky are those who live with their kids but still seem to be stupid enough (yes; strong word) to post life events that embarrass their children – and everyone else around them, for that matter. Remember when we were growing up and we used to get embarrassed by our parents’ old school antics in public? Same scenario, different generation and different channel.
As an unwritten online rule of thumb, as a parent, nary do I click “LIKE” and comment on my kids’ posts or their friends’ posts about them. Because what I may think is nothing might be a very big deal for them. So, I err on the safe side – hold my peace. And so should you.
It is also common sense not to portray yourself online as being negative, a worrywart, an irritant and too stressful to even read your posts. If it’s cute to your close friends, do you think your children even bother? Chances are, they may have just unfollowed you without you knowing or worse, unfriended you. Being a positive role model doesn’t end while being physically together; your online posts speaks louder to your kids today.
Don’t you realize how lucky we are to have social media by our side to show our internet-born and internet-savvy kids who we are, how we think, where we side, how we feel, who and what we value – all without speaking to them? Remember the old adage? “Children learn by imitating their parents.” Well, the online world is more powerful than the mere sight of parents doing something really strange or embarrassing.
Today, the years of estrangement with my son is slowly passing us by. The “I love you, dad!” came back. Why do you think that is? Besides maturity sinking in, he and his sister can always check online to see what I’m doing, where I am, who I’m with, and so on. As my son matured (and still continues to mature), he realized that I was fine and so should he. My son and I spent those constrained hours during our annual get together to just talk, talk and talk – no scripts, no spiels, just being myself but talking to an adult, not a teenager. The face-to-face meeting is actually a bonus to our social media relationship.
I never told my daughter what I did, what I was doing professionally and what my CV or resume looked like. During our annual conversation, she told me she realized she might have chosen the wrong course in college. From Linguistics, she shifted to Computer Science. I shouted to the top of my lungs silently. LOL! I was once in the IT field and, as they say, “once a geek, always a geek!” My son’s character also changed; he’s now with more friends than ever but still on the introverted side, much like I was when I was young. Yeah, we were young, once.
So, yes, our children “WATCH US” and “IMITATE US” regardless of the distance. If I was not active in social media, how the heck would have they watched me and maybe imitated me? So, social media isn’t a channel for distraction; it is ALSO a channel for our children to see and observe us. Remember, our kids are Millennials, the generation that got born into the Internet without learning what the heck is the Internet for. Embrace their world, not ours, and learn to use that channel for their growth – as parents.
Photo via Flickr through Creative Commons licensing.