Rules of the (Open) Road: To Share or Not to Share

by Emily Cherkin

Many of us will be traveling this summer, with both our kids and smartphones in tow. And who doesn’t want to document these precious summer memories? Of course, once I capture these fleeting moments, it’s sooooo easy to click and share what we are up to on social media. But I’ve also grown increasingly skeptical of this too-easy process. Recently, three questions have pushed me to pause before I post:

  1. What do I gain by posting these pics?
  2. What do I lose or replace?
  3. What values do I model for our kids?

I’m not anti-technology. Our family owns smart phones, a computer, a smart speaker, and other devices. There is no question about the convenience technology provides, and there are days I wonder how I lived without Google Maps at my fingertips. But as my kids get older, the reach of technology pushes me to question my own behavior.

What do we gain when we post?

Obviously, sharing images with family and “friends” is a key reason. It is quick, easy, and involves a few flicks of our fingers. We know instantly whether our photos are good (adding filters and decorations, too); we can share (in real time) with our networks about our travels; and when we return from vacation, sandy and exhausted, we’ve already published our digital slideshow.

What do we lose or replace when we feel the need to post?  

It is exhausting keeping up with the Joneses (and the Smiths and the Browns…) For each of our status updates, there are myriad others in our feed to admire, scrutinize, and react to, requiring more of our time and attention beyond hitting “post.”  

Scrolling through comment threads can be an anxiety-producing commitment (“Did it get likes? Were there any comments? What did people think?”), while also demanding we check back frequently, drawing our attention away from other things.

Finally, and perhaps most critically, it is worth wondering if, for the well-being of our family and ourselves, we might need to put the phone and engage in the moment? Psychologists have known for years that healthy parent-child bonding occurs in moments of face-to-face interaction, not when we are fumbling to capture the perfect pic for IG.

What are we modeling?

We are our kids’ first teachers. This is both a thrilling and terrifying prospect, like when your three-year-old repeats a favorite curse word in a public place. Philosophers both ancient (Voltaire) and new (Uncle Ben in Spiderman) observed, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Our kids develop value systems and relationship skills by watching us. Our toddlers build literacy through back-and-forth conversations. Our babies want to see the fronts of our faces, not the backs of our iPhones. By observing us use technology, children learn not only what we value (our phones), but what is important (seeking validation and approval from digital followers).

So, what to do? By all means, bring your phone on vacation. Google maps will direct you to that hidden beach, and to find a great breakfast spot you may need help from Yelp. But here are a few easy tips for finding balance with screens while on vacation:

  1. Turn off Notifications: My husband once described text messaging as “giving someone not even in the room permission to interrupt you.” We hate it when our kids interrupt us, so why do we allow it from our devices? Turning off social media notifications and news alerts is easy, and chances are you will not miss much. Last year, I silenced my text messages and found that I glance at my phone frequently enough to never miss anything really important.
  2. Leave it at Home: Consider leaving the phone at home when you take that day trip or lounge by the pool. It is okay not to capture every moment and chances are, a nap on the sand might be just what you need.
  3. Get Partner or Family Support: Chances are, if you travel with family or friends, you are not the only one snapping and posting. Have a conversation with other adults about how you would like social media to work while together, and develop a plan that works for everyone. Then hold each other accountable.
  4. Model Consent by Asking for Permission: The work of Magda Gerber and RIE underscores the importance of teaching respect for self and others, even newborn babes. Though it can feel awkward at first (especially with a nonverbal baby), asking permission to take a photo, and then again to post or share it, models the importance and power of  “Yes.” Of course, “No means no” and you have to play by the rules. If that seems silly, picture your child as a middle schooler with a social media account.
  5. Live Your Life Out Loud: If you just cannot resist the snap-and-post, try talking through the process as you do it, even if your littles are non-verbal. For example, “Mommy is checking the calendar to see when our playdate is happening, and then looking on a map to see how far away it is from our house.” It models for kids how you use technology AND it teaches great executive-function skills, like planning and organizing.

Have more ideas or did you try one of these? Send Emily a note to share your story, and have a great and safe summer! You can find Emily at www.thescreentimeconsultant.com!


About the Author

Emily Cherkin recently launched as The Screentime Consultant, LLC, where she works as a speaker and parent educator, helping families and schools find balance with technology. As a middle school teacher for over a decade, Emily witnessed students move from “low-tech” dumb phones to smartphones and social media. She watched as schools strive to offer the latest and greatest in technology in 1:1 iPad programs. And she wondered: Where are we headed?

After introducing her own two children to the world, the notion of “screentime” became personal. Access to iPhones, an XBox, and streaming Netflix episodes caused conflicts and meltdowns (for Emily AND her kids).

Emily has a Master’s in Education, and is a speaker for the Northwest Association of Independent Schools (NWAIS), a PEPS leader and guest speaker on Screentime and Parenting, a member of Leading Women in Technology’s WILPower Program, and a session speaker for the first annual Children’s Screentime Action Network in Boston, MA.

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