Keeping Your Teen’s Social Media Safe and Positive

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May 5, 2014 by middleearthnj

CBR001155Teenagers today are one of the most technology-savvy generations of all time. When they are not on their tablets, they are glued to their smartphones. This technology has opened a lot of positive opportunities to our adolescents, but it also opens the possibility that they can get hurt. Social media – from networking sites to texting – give teens unprecedented access to each other and the outside world.

According to the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, “a large part of this generation’s social and emotional development is occurring while on the Internet and on cell phones.” They cited these statistics:

  • 22% of teenagers log on to their favorite social media site more than 10 times a day
  • more than 50% of adolescents log on to a social media site more than once a day
  • 75% of teenagers now own cell phones, of which 25% use them for social media, 54% use them for texting, and 24% use them for instant messaging

 

Potential problems with social media

Social media can present significant concerns for our teenagers, including: access to inappropriate content, sexting, predators, and cyberbullying. We have previous blogs that discuss each of these subjects specifically:

Even beyond these obvious risks, researchers are noticing a new trend they are calling “Facebook Depression.” Some adults and teens who use social media extensively are both experiencing depression. The cause is not completely clear, but researchers have two theories: 1) Humans require personal social interaction to thrive, and social media – despite the interaction – is too impersonal to satisfy that basic need. 2) Because users exaggerate and filter their posts, observers can often think that everyone else is leading a more exciting and/or happy life than they actually are.

Teen depression from social media is obviously clearer when teens are bullied online. This type of harassment occurs when “friends” publicize private instant or text messages, post threats, post embarrassing photos, or spread rumors. According to the Centers for Disease Control, both middle and high school students who were bullied were three times as likely to report seriously considering suicide, as compared to students who were not bullied or bullies themselves.

Lately, there have been many news reports about youth attempting suicide after becoming the victim of cyberbullying. What is not clear is whether the bullies will be held liable in a court of law. Every state has different laws and policies in place regarding social media and bullying. You can find out the specifics of your state’s laws and policies at this website: http://www.stopbullying.gov/laws/.

What parents can do to keep social media safe

So, should parents try to pull the plug and keep their adolescents away from social media? No. Social media connections are really important to the social lives of today’s kids. Instead, parents should take steps to guide their teens safely through their social media interactions, such as:

Learn About Social Media

Stay informed about the new devices and websites your teen is using. Then, learn about the social media sites and stay on top of advances, since technology changes rapidly. Continually talk with your teen about “where they are going” online and explore the technology yourself. Learn about the risks associated with various social media sites so that you can have meaningful conversations with your teen.

Establish Online Rules

After parents have educated themselves on social media and its pitfalls, they are in a better position to establish online rules. It is crucial that parents have clear expectations about their child’s social media behavior. Some rules parents should consider are:

  • time limits on phones, tablets and computers
  • do not bring technology to the dinner table or to your room at bedtime
  • keep passwords private
  • do not give out personal information, including your address, any family phone numbers, your birthdate, your school, or your current location (turn off geo-caching)
  • respect your family’s privacy and do not share things that your family members have said or done
  • do not share messages or photos sent to you privately
  • do not post anything you wouldn’t say to someone’s face
  • do not make threats, bully, or engage in any sexual behavior via social media
  • do not “friend” anyone you don’t know personally
  • check with us before downloading any apps, music, videos, etc.

If your child breaks any of these rules, or you discover that they have engaged in cyberbullying, respond immediately. Taking away your teen’s cell phone, tablet, and computer is an effective and appropriate discipline in this case. Be firm and consistent. Remind them of the rules frequently, or post them next to the computer, so that they can’t later profess ignorance or amnesia.

View Your Teen’s Privacy Settings

First of all, tweens should not be on social media. Facebook and other social media sites do not allow children under the age of 13 to have accounts. If your tween has an account, then they have lied about their birthdate. Once your teen is of age and has your permission to have a social media account, sit down together to set up the account. (If your teen is older and already has an account, ask them to sit down with you and show you their privacy settings.) Each social media site has different rules about privacy settings, but you should set up your teen’s account to take advantage of all the privacy restrictions available and don’t give unnecessary information like cell phone numbers.

Teach your Teen How to Respond to Inappropriate Behavior

Unfortunately, it is more than likely that your teen will come across inappropriate behavior online. Whether they are approached by an adult online, see pornographic material, or become a witness or victim to bullying, your teen should know ahead of time how you expect them to respond if problems should develop. Make it absolutely clear that if anything happens online that makes him or her uncomfortable, you expect him or her to talk to you about it and that they won’t get in trouble. Explain that you would like to work together to solve the problem. Be aware that many teens are reluctant to tell parents they are being victimized because they fear they will have their Internet or cell phone privileges taken away. Be sure to develop solutions that prevent or address victimization without punishing your teen.

Monitor your Teen’s Online Activity

Parents should be very involved in their teen’s online world. Social media is how teens connect, and you should join them there – texting is a great way to stay connected to your teen without embarrassing them online for all to see.

Help your teens set up their online accounts and be sure you have passwords to every account they have. At an early age, be sure your kids know that you will be reading text messages, e-mails and social media posts at random times. This way, when your child gets older, they will be used to, and even expect, this from you. Many parents struggle over this type of monitoring because it feels like an invasion of privacy. Experts disagree. Reading your teen’s personal journal that is not shared with anyone is an invasion of privacy. Reading their posts that can be seen in the public world is not. Even “private” text messages can be forwarded to others. This is a matter of safety, not privacy.

It’s also a good idea to be “friends” with your child on their social networking sites. However, parents need to be careful that they don’t embarrass their teen. As your teen’s “friend,” parents should really be monitoring their teen’s activity more than being an active participant. Parents can offer advice on specific posts their teen (or their teen’s friends) has made that are less than ideal. Being “friends” with your teen can help you keep tabs on what’s going on; however, be aware that it can also give you a false sense of security. Many teens are pretty savvy about blocking parents from seeing what they don’t want them to see or even creating an alternate account that their parents don’t know about. If you don’t see much activity or many friends on his/her page, that might be the case. Set up a Google alert with your child’s name so that if anything about him/her hits the Internet, you know about it immediately.

Finally, keep your home computer in a busy area of your home and don’t allow your teen to keep any media in their bedroom after lights out.

Use Current Events to Warn Teens

Sharing examples of social media gone wrong is one of the best ways to help teens take their actions seriously. Let them see how a sexting scandal has played out, for example, or discuss the latest news story about cyberbullying. Discuss potential scams, explaining how some people are tricked into giving out personal information or giving away money. Make sure you explain that people online are not always who they claim to be.

Encourage Teens to Consider Their Future

True privacy is a myth. Even if your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts are all set on the highest privacy settings, you cannot guarantee your words or photos won’t be shared. Once something is posted on the internet, it will remain in cyberspace forever. Social media profiles are highly favored in Google search, so inappropriate comments and photos can come back to haunt your teen years later. It’s quite common now for a college admissions counselor, potential employer, or coach to research a prospective student before extending an offer.

You might encourage your teen to pause every time before hitting the post button. They can ask themselves these questions: Is what I’m posting true? Is it kind, helpful, or inspiring? Is it something I wouldn’t mind my mother, doctor, teacher, or future employer reading later? If they answer no to any of those questions, they shouldn’t post.

Final Thoughts…

Teens are less likely to become victims of social media problems if they have a good relationship with their parents, good coping skills and a healthy outlook on life. Parents should talk to their teens every day and ask open-ended questions about their friendships, schoolwork, and activities in order to connect with them and identify any problems. Involved parents can prevent a multitude of problems.

Just like in the days before social media, a parent’s primary role is to develop positive character and responsibility in their children. Adolescents who have good self-esteem, empathy, and respect will succeed in all areas of life, not just in the social media world.

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