by Heidi Indhal
I have a confession to make. I am all over social media, but totally afraid to let my teen touch it. It’s true!
Being a full-grown adult, I sometimes get anxious about how many likes a post gets, or why a certain friend didn’t respond to something. The lines between virtual and real friends seems to blur a little bit more each year. I can’t imagine having that added burden to the realities of what it means to be in those often awkward teenage years.
While my teen hasn’t made the jump past email at this point, I am paying attention to the social media accounts of several teenagers. Here are five things I’ve noticed.
Parenting and Social Media: 5 Steps to a Safer Experience
1. There is a difference between kids’ online behavior when they know their parents are watching (or not). Just because you wouldn’t eavesdrop on your child when they are on the phone or hanging out at the pool, doesn’t mean you should leave them unsupervised online. This is true especially with social media, when all behavior is effectively public behavior. Make them earn your trust and then keep tabs anyway.
2. There are a thousand ways that savvy kids can get around the watchful eyes of their parents online. Everyone wants to believe that won’t happen to them until it does. Being their friend is not enough. You have to access their account from their screen, from your screen, and from an anonymous account to know what is really showing up. Privacy settings are your friend and your child’s protection!
3. It’s possible to give both space to respect your child’s privacy and still do the above. Mom and dad don’t have to comment or like every post. If you see something questionable, either in the behavior of your child or their friend, mention it in a calm respectful way, but as in all things teen parenting — pick your battles. Be a listening ear, and let your child know that you were made a little uncomfortable by the sexually charged hashtag their friend posted and ask how they feel about it.
4. Most teens don’t fully grasp the permanency of the Internet. They need to understand that colleges and future employers may make use of their social media profiles in job and placement decisions. One poorly thought-out decision has the potential far greater consequences than those sorts of things did for us. Remind teens that even if they are not posting about an event, their friends might and could tag them.
5. Kids need to set their own boundaries about how parents use their image online. Be aware of your own privacy settings when it comes to what you share. Sharing a cute thing your 4 year old did and a cute thing your 17 year old did are not the same thing. I tell my son that, as his parent, I get a few “gimmes” each year (family photos, the *big* mom brags), but when it comes to most everything else he gets to sign off on every photo or blog I share that includes him. He may not have his own social media accounts, but I don’t keep mine from him. He is welcome to look at my profiles any time he would like.
Social media is something that we need to talk about with our kids. It’s a place that, as Catholics, we are called to interact with the world and a tool for sharing the faith. Before they can begin to evangelize online, however, kids need to learn how to navigate safely and respectfully.
For more information, be sure to check out the 3 Questions to Help Kids Judge Their Favorite Media. All of these questions can be expanded to help a teen decide if they should like, comment, and share! For more ideas on technology from a Montessori perspective, check out Tackling Technology: What is a Montessori Parent to Do?