You can run, but you can’t hide. Social media is here to stay whether you like it or not. And if you’re the parent of a teen, the above statements may awake all sorts of anxieties. What if your child is bullied? What if your child is confronted with inappropriate images or people? What if your child gets wrapped up in this world that he/she forgets reality, and you lose touch with him/her? What if, while being out of touch, your child is confronted with bullying that leads to suicidal thoughts and tendencies?
Every one of these fears are valid because they are all very real results that can come from overuse and even limited uses of social media. In fact, a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, which provides information on social issues in the United states, found that 24 percent of teens describe the effect of social media as mostly negative. Teens in this study cited reasons mainly due to bullying and the overall spread of rumors, as well as harmful relationships, negative peer pressure and the increase in psychological issues.
And while research is still new on the topic of teen suicide rates connected to social media, researchers from the National Center for Telehealth and Technology found that social media could have impact on suicidal behavior.
But it isn’t all bad news
As scary as your thoughts and the accompanying research may be, social media is not all bad. The same Pew Research Center study found that 40 percent of teen respondents said that social media has had a positive impact. The teens subjects said this is because makes it easier to communicate with family and friends and to connect with new people. Furthermore, the National Center for Telehealth and Technology study also found that social media created new opportunities for suicide prevention.
As is the case with anything in life, you take the bad with the good. And as parents, it is important to prepare your children for what they will encounter, and in many cases, walk with them to help better navigate the world of social media. Here are some ways to do just that:
1. Check privacy settings
One of the first things you need to do when allowing your teen to be on social media is to check the privacy settings. Is your child’s account private? Is the location on his/her device turned off? Doing so will give you and your child control over who follows them/sees their posts, and will be a large step toward protecting him/her from online predators.
2. Never allow your child to clear the browsing history on devices
This is another rule that needs to be set early on. Make it clear to your teen that having access to the internet and social media is a privilege, and doing things secretly revokes that privilege. Explain to your child the importance of being honest, even when mistakes are made. If he or she has something to hide, that is when it needs to be discussed.
3. Be transparent and honest with each other
It isn’t just teens who are active in social media. Parents are also just as active if not more so than teens in many cases. If you are expecting certain behavior out of your teen, i.e., posting appropriate pictures and words, making good comments, and spending a limited time on it, you must model the same behavior. Along those same lines, many parents insist on being linked/having access to their child’s social media accounts. It might not be a bad idea to let your child have access to yours, so you are also kept in check.
Teens model behavior they see their parents engage in, so parents need to keep it clean, kind and limited, too.
4. “Like” your child’s posts
From the day your child is born, she looks to you for love and acceptance, and it doesn’t change much as she gets older. If you follow each other on Instagram, for example (which you should), make it a point to “like” posts she makes — if the post is likable. Doing so will show her much needed acceptance. She will also take note of which ones you don’t like. This will serve as a conversational tool for what is appropriate and not appropriate to post.
5. Have open discussions about what is OK to post
This can be tricky because many teens are defensive about the things they post, mostly because it is what their friends do. Likewise, you and your child may have different tastes and one post may seem dumb to you, and not to your child.
Don’t be overly critical, but talk about things like language, sexual and violent content. Use other people’s profiles as a “good example of a bad example,” so that your child can understand (not necessarily see) what is not acceptable.
6. Point out positive images
Not only is it important for your child to know what not to post, but what is good to post. You can do this by pointing out positive images/posts. Things like inspirational quotes, a good picture with a happy thought or positive message. Even a funny meme is something that can bring about positivity to those in your social media world.
By doing so, you can help your child to use social media as a platform to be an influence for good.
7. Talk consequences
It is no doubt important to come up with consequences for rules that are broken, and it is up to you, the parent to decide what those consequences are. However, there are natural consequences that come as a result of poor choices made online.
For instance, sexting could lead to not only ridicule from friends, but also legal consequences related to underage individuals — particularly as it pertains to child pornography. If you participate in online bullying, not only could you get in trouble, but the consequences could extend into that person engaging in self harm. Even lighter offenses like staying on your phone well into the night will negatively impact your sleep patterns and therefore how you perform in school and other extracurricular activities.
Discuss all consequences so your child knows ahead of time what will/could happen as a result of negative actions.
8. Don’t allow it to replace reality
Many teens and adults alike will go to social media when they are sad, angry or lonely to help replace or even numb those feelings. In fact, research has found that social media triggers a dopamine high similar to that of drugs.
This is why it is so important to make sure that you have those real life discussions when things get hard. Don’t allow yourself or your teen to turn to social media to block out negative emotions. Instead, do what you can to address the emotions directly either within your family or by contacting a professional for help.
9. Always be present
Parents need to be there and be aware. Know what your child is viewing whether it is the latest Hollywood heartthrob or images/videos that are not appropriate. That knowledge will help you connect with your child in positive ways as you discuss the heartthrob of your day, and even when you have those hard talks when your child has been negatively influenced. Because, no world — not even a real world — can be filled with butterflies and daisies. You will have weeds and obnoxious pests that together, you and your teen can face and eventually make your way through.