Social media can get a bad rap from well-intended grown-ups who want to ensure that their children are safe online and are having meaningful friendships face-to-face. To be fair, social media threats abound; cyber-bullying, inappropriate imagery, predatory advertisements, and privacy violations often make parents believe that they must be constantly vigilant or must pull the plug entirely.
Can there be a positive role for social media in a teen’s life, though? Is there a way for grown-ups to feel that they are protecting their child while also helping teens navigate the social media landscape? These platforms represent the mechanisms for business, communication, and social activity in our era, and they will only grow in importance as your teen becomes an adult. It is important to help your child understand these platforms so that they have the skills necessary to operate in our future world.
Given the myriad of social media platforms available, your teen could be online 24/7 and still not engage on all of the networks that exist. Furthermore, teens’ tastes seem to change with the wind. When my older son turned thirteen, he was allowed a Facebook account (as thirteen is the minimum age for having one). At the time, Facebook was the favored choice among teens. Not anymore. Facebook ceded that honor to Twitter in the fall of 2013 while sharing the number two spot with Instagram. Snapchat is another teen favorite as it provides teens the ability to send a message or picture that is then erased (as long as those receiving the message have not quickly taken a screenshot). Trying to follow teens from platform to platform can be bewildering.
Discuss with your teen the concerns that you have and the threats that exist. Making them aware of the dangers of social media goes a long way toward helping them develop sound decision-making skills of their own. Rather than decreeing that they cannot use social media, involve them in the process of deciding which platforms they will use and how they should use them.
Develop guidelines for time spent on social media, recognizing that you cannot watch them constantly. Given that most teens use mobile devices to access social media, it might be a better idea to establish boundaries for when they can use their cell phones and tablets. As teens get older, however, restricting that access becomes more difficult. That is why it is crucial to build your overall relationship with your teen, instilling your values, and teaching them sound decision-making skills. Keep lines of communication open. If they feel that you will always disapprove of their use of social media, they are much more likely to hide it from you rather than share with you what is happening online.
Learn Social Media, Too
Just because you’re the adult doesn’t mean you can’t be the social media expert in your house. Rather than relinquishing the technological mastery to your adolescent, read up on social media, learn the latest trends, and understand how the different platforms work. If Twitter is the most popular platform when your teen is old enough to have an account, learn how it works. Get an account. Connect with your teen online. Avoid being an obvious connection online, as you will likely only succeed in pushing them away, but let them know what behavior is acceptable.
Help your teen find the benefits to using social media. Teach them how to do a search on Twitter for clubs or organizations they may want to learn more about or volunteer with. Show them how to use LinkedIn to network with professionals in the field they may want to go into as adults. Help them discover groups on LinkedIn or Facebook that relate to the subjects they enjoy in school. Work with them to build their resume on LinkedIn, constantly building upon it as they complete science fair projects, win awards, or have accomplishments to include. They can embed their work right onto their LinkedIn profile, and then perhaps even connect with admissions counselors or other people of influence from colleges where they want to attend.
Finally, ensure that you are providing an environment where your teen has enough non-virtual experiences that they’re not just using social media for entertainment all the time. Establish family times where no mobile devices are allowed (that means you, too, grown-ups). Take a hike in the woods. Cook a new recipe together. Go to the movies. Have a day out with the family. Create opportunities for their friends to come over and hang out so that your teen can continue to develop their face-to-face social skills.
As with most things in life, understanding and moderation go a long way toward preventing problems while simultaneously helping build relationships. Understanding the social media landscape and encouraging your teen to harness fantastic networking opportunities will help fortify your teen’s awareness of its potential and its dangers.