Posted by: counselorcarmella | December 31, 2014

Teens, Parents, and Social Media

Technology and social media have opened up a much more complicated can of worms that can be hard for parents to know what to do with. They know way more about this stuff than most of us adults do and are so much more tech savvy and comfortable with social media, texting, and technology in general. Letting your kid teach you things is great and letting them teach you about technology and how to use social media can be fun if they’ll do it. There are a lot of positive things about technological advances and its where our future is headed so we might as well go with it and be informed rather than try and fight it or dismiss all of it as evil.

Lots of teens have trouble making good decisions related to social media. They can’t stop texting and go to sleep at a reasonable time. They lose expensive phones or IPods. They put too much information out online and trust what others tell them. They post pictures that could lead to rumors, exploitation, or even legal consequences because they show teens engaging in illegal behaviors with substances or because they’re sending obscene or threatening content electronically. They access or download content that is inappropriate or that they’ve been told is off limits by parents or school officials. Adults do many of the same things so expecting teens to be responsible with these sorts of freedoms is very unwise. Teens have been expelled from school, committed suicide, had strangers show up at their homes, or been sent to mandatory counseling or incarsarated because of actions taken via social media. Again, far too often, those who post, tweet, snap chat, etc. may not be thinking beyond what they want to do at the moment. They might be caught up in the drama, enjoy the attention, or feel pressured to do or say certain things they might not feel the same way about if it were face-to-face in real time.

Talk with your teen and develop a contract for what the rules will be about using cell phones, hand held devices, websites, and social media. Let your child know you want them to be able to text, snapchat, tweet, and enjoy all the fun and social aspects of technology. Be very clear about what is expected/allowed and what isn’t so no one can claim to be confused. Be clear about what the consequences will be if rules are violated. For example, ” “If I find inappropriate messages on your phone or computer, you will not be allowed to use it for two weeks. Or, you can use it for an hour in the evenings or two on the weekends, but only when we’re in the same room. Also, if you do need it for school, you will use it while we are in the same room together. If I find out certain things are going on, I will report it to school, the police, or to your friends’ parents.” “We will get you a basic crappy pay-as-you-go phone from WalMart with limitted minutes and texting just so we can keep in touch with you if we keep having problems.”

Decide when the contract will be looked at again and under what conditions, and have parents and teens both sign it. Listen to their input. They may have ideas, too, but final decisions are yours. You can do such contracts about chores, schoolwork, or anything else. As teens get older, rules may change about phones, curfews, driving, etc., but changes will be based on how well smaller freedoms were handled. If chores still get done, grades are okay, and attitudes aren’t getting worse, they can be judged mature enough to possibly get to do more. If not, rules stay the same or may even become more strict.

Here are some things to think about as you go about this process. Let your kids know that being allowed to use social media is not a right but a privledge, despite how most kids think about texting, tweeting, and snapchatting. Let them know you’re willing to let them have certain freedoms under certain conditions because you know it is important socially and that technology can be fun, a great outlet, and something very positive if used responsibly.

Send your child links to articles that educate them about safe and responsible use of social media and talk with them about what these articles say. Give them a brief written test similar to amultiple choice driving test if you want about safety concerns with social media, your expectations, and what they know about the consequences. Tell them you know its stupid and ridiculous but that you have to be those things sometimes in order to qualify as a responsible parent. (Yes, I support using humor whenever possible). Keep a copy of it around to refer back to and that they can either do it or not use social media at all. Encourage them to tell all their friends how not cool and unbelievably annoying you are as a parent because you made them take a “social media test.” If these things are never true, you’re probably being too much of a friend anyway. They can give you a test too, if they want. If they pass your 10 question, not overly difficult test, the one with clear answers and with a special section for them to make comments, they can use social media under close supervision, work up to a social media learner’s permit, then a restricted license, then a license with reasonable limits just as you would do with the freedom to drive. Just as rules about the car may change if they take it where they shouldn’t, get a ticket, cause an accident, get caught with drugs or alcohol or friends you don’t approve of in their vehicle, etc., the same will be true of social media.

Know how to use social media yourself. Know about the sites and apps teens are using. Some are known to be used inappropriately more often or are even created to promote inappropriate behaviors or ideas. Your child can use their IPod to get online, too. They may be able to access unsecure wireless signals if you’ve cut off their access to the one in your home. Know what’s going on. Try to get a sense of how closely their friends’ parents monitor their phones and SM accounts and how much freedom they let their kids have. Your child should use the same rules when interacting on their friends’ phones or computers as they would on their own devices. Be on their account and have the password. If they change their password, the electronic device goes away for a period of time and they can log in through your account on your phone or computer. Set phones to turn off automatically after a certain time at night. Use GPS apps to make sure your kids are where they say they are. Let them know how long you will wait after calling or sending a text before they’re in trouble for not responding. Let them know if you expect electronic devices to be off during certain times, such as meals, family time, or while they’re doing homework. That goes for the adults too, of course. Its okay for everyone to be in the same room playing on their gadgets sometimes, too. Be VERY clear about your expectations about texting or being on the phone while driving. Let them know what your consequences will be in addition to what the school does if they are using electronic devices inappropriately at school.

You have the right to randomly check your child’s phone or social media accounts at any time as long as they live under your roof. In fact, doing so is your responsibility Teens need to know this will happen for your peace of mind. This means that, at any moment, you could say, “Let me hold your phone please,” and they have to hand it over right then. If they don’t want to, it may mean they want time to erase something or close out a conversation they don’t want you to see. This is not an invasion of privacy. Social media is like letting kids hang out unsupervised. Its different than journals because it is interactive and shared with at least one other person, and sometimes many other people. Do this more or less often depending on trust and behaviors. Tell them to let their friends know you do this. Let them know you will report serious or disturbing content to the school, parents, or the police. Know how to alert sites about inappropriate content, obscenity, or threats of harm to self or others in case you need to do so. Let teens know when you’ve looked at their phone or social media account and any actions you’ve taken. Don’t deny it or be sneaky. If you’re proud of something you see on their phone or social media, definitely let them know that, too.

Make sure your child’s accounts are set to “friends only” or similar settings. Social media accounts can display a lot of information publicly if settings are not changed. Ask who certain friends are. Have rules that they can’t add people who don’t go to their school without asking you about it first and letting you see the person’s information. It can be fun to make friends in different cities, states, and even countries who have similar interests, but parents still need to have a sense of who these friends are, how old they are, and if they really are who they claim to be. Be clear about how much info your kids can give out about their school, where they live, last names, birthdays, phone number, etc. Usually, the less the better.

A good rule for putting things up on social media is to think, “Would I want my Grandma to see that?” Let them know you will remove items that are offensive or inappropriate and give examples of what such things would be. If your teen does not show good judgment or violates what you’ve made clear about pictures, let them know you will have to give permission for them to post pictures. This also means making sure other people in the pictures are okay with them being posted, which should be the case if nothing questionable is going on. Pay attention if it seems like your teen is being cyberbullied or is engaging in cyberbullying and take appropriate action.

Its also okay to let kids know you will talk to the people they’re communicating with via text or social networking sites if needed. Letting someone your child is talking with in an inappropriate way know in no uncertain terms that you are aware of the behaviors on both sides and that you will report it to the site, parents, or authorities can send a strong message to those who are out to take advantage of your child or who are just other kids up to no good. You can use your child’s account to do this. Don’t pretend to be them. Clearly identify yourself and state why you are writing to them. Tell them to either stop communicating with your child or how you expect them to communicate differently and what will happen if they don’t do so.

Let your teen know you will do this if you need to and advise them to let their friends know that their crazy overreactive Mom or Dad checks their accounts and contacts people who aren’t behaving correctly towards them so this is why they can’t have certain types of conversations, download certain apps, etc. If you tell your child you will do this, don’t back down if they create a situation where you need to do so, no matter how embarrassed or angry they say they’ll be. You warned them ahead of time about any actions you take.

Remember, your child’s safety and health are your top priority. If your teen can’t handle online freedom well, If they are downloading things you don’t approve of, or misusing technology in ways you have made clear are not acceptable/not allowed, tighter limits should be set and more serious consequences clearly stated. If they’re not sleeping or getting homework or chores done because of technology, that counts, too. If they overreact when you ask them to get off their phone, computer, or IPod, this is also a sign that technology is becoming too important. Your not on a personal mission to be mean or to “ruin” their lives or friendships. You’re acting as a responsible parent. Let your child know you wish you didn’t have to and that you’re not happy about it either. Tell them you hope things will happen differently in the future, that their actions have a lot to do with that, and that its okay that they’re upset or angry with you. Don’t stay mad or keep bringing up what happened. Just go ahead with the consequences you’ve decided on. Remind your child that, even though you’re concerned about what they’re doing or may not like the choice they made, you love them and believe they can make better decisions and that you will help them to do so. Give them credit for the things they’ve done right and times they’ve shown good judgment.

Say that you hope they’ll think diffferently or be willing to talk more when they’re not so upset or angry. If you can’t say these things to them directly because emotions are too intense, write them a note or card. Maintaining a positive relationship with your child is always important. Offer them other fun options and outings whether they take you up on such offers or not.

And on that note, you may find that you and your teen communicate better via text, messaging, etc., as well. Use this to your advantage. Try not to be annoying or embarrassing with what you share publicly on their walls, feeds, etc. Ask about their preferences about this, too. You’re your presence known occasionally just to remind them (and those they interact with) that you’re aware of what’s going on and actually do check, but do this by making a brief positive comment about a post, picture, or tweet.

Lastly, practice what you preach. Use social media responsibly yourself. Know when to get off FaceBook and give your child or spouse your undivided attention. Don’t use your phone or computer irresponsibly at work. Absolutely don’t text and drive. Let your kids know setting limits with technology is hard for adults, too.


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