By Maureen Kochan
Actress Kate Winslet, who stars in the new film based on the life of Apple founder Steve Jobs, told the Sunday Times in the U.K. that she doesn’t allow her kids to use social media at home.
“It has a huge impact on young women’s self-esteem, because all they ever do is design themselves for people to like them,” Winslet said. “And what comes along with that? Eating disorders. And that makes my blood boil and is the reason we don’t have any social media in our house.”
The Oscar-winning actress – mom to daughter Mia, 15, and sons Joe, 11, and Bear, 22 months – also complained that social media is taking over kids’ lives and parents are losing control.
“Let your kids climb trees. Take the device out of their hand. Play Monopoly!” Winslet said. “You go to a cafe and grown-ups are at one end of the table and children the other, on devices, not looking up.
“They go into a world and parents let them. … It takes every member of a family to be a member, and there are too many interruptions these days – and devices are a huge interruption.”
And while Winslet was quick to note that she doesn’t want to sound like “another celebrity on a soapbox thinking they’ve got the answers,” there are some important problems with her thinking.
1. Banning social media doesn’t work.
If your kids want on social media, they will get on social media – in class, at the library, on a friend’s phone or computer. The mere thought of banning social media from kids’ lives brings back memories of “Footloose” – that popular 1980’s film starring Kevin Bacon about a town that banned music for fear of what it would do to its kids. Of course the kids’ desire for music and dancing was so great that they snuck out at night to go to a dance hall across the state line (“I want you all to see what you’ve been missing,” Bacon’s character Ren tells them), arguably a much more dangerous activity than listening to music or dancing ever was.
2. Kids like social media – but watching TV and listening to music are still the top media activities for kids, much like earlier generations.
A study of U.S. tweens and teens by Common Sense Media released this week showed that only 14% of teen girls and 5% of teen boys named social media as their “favorite” media activity. As for daily media use, 66% of kids cited listening to music as their favorite activity, followed by watching TV (58%) and using social media (45%). Read more about the study’s findings from ConnectSafely.org’s Larry Magid.
3. Being open to social media allows for great family discussions that help kids build essential life skills.
Since we’ve established that where there’s a will there’s a way, it’s time to accept that your kids will be on social media (or already are). Talk to them about what services they and their friends like and why. Ask them to take you on a tour of their social media accounts (don’t be hurt if they don’t, it could be like opening up their diary to you), or join the service yourself to check out the site’s tools and get a general feel. Use those casual moments to discuss in a positive, nonjudgmental way basic guidelines for staying safe online, like never sharing passwords (even with close friends, who can become ex-friends) or being nice online is more than just good karma – it protects them, too. Read more of our advice for parents here.
But we can’t blame Ms. Winslet for her opinions. It can be scary raising kids, and we tend to fear what we don’t know. Maybe it’s time for Ms. Winslet to embrace social media, and see that there’s nothing to fear but fear itself.
Maureen is COO of ConnectSafely.org. Read more about her here.