Got a teen on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter? Then you should be there too

Girls textingTeens, smartphones, Facebook, Instagram, and a myriad of other “social” apps. What do they have in common? Well they simply go together these days. Just look around and if you spot a teen, he/she is likely virtually connected, phone firmly in hand.

The social landscape has certainly changed since our own teen years and it’s up to us as parents to catch up.

There really is no other option.

Just as we would inquire about where they’re going and who they’re going with; we must stay just as vigilant about their online activity.

Perhaps even more so.

Why?

93% of teens are on some form of online social media. Most of them choose Facebook. Everywhere we go, teens (and it’s not just teens, it’s our culture now) are on their smartphones; checking the latest Facebook status updates or Instagram pictures from their “friends”.

Just this past weekend, I was at the park with my kids. Two teens were huddled on a slide together, phone in hand. Their conversation revolving around what someone posted on Facebook.

What’s the harm, you might ask. Perhaps (and hopefully) none, but it’s easy to see how this constant connectedness can quickly go awry. Teens are, by nature, impulsive and they’ve got a lot going on. Both physically and emotionally. Being able to communicate with such immediacy and in a dangerously public way can have significant negative consequences.

In 2011, 1 million children were harassed, threatened, or subjected to cyberbullying on Facebook. Of these children, only 10% of parents were aware of it.

55% of teens on Facebook gave out personal information to someone they didn’t know. And only 34% of parents say they regularly check their child’s social network sites. And with “beauty contests” popping up in Instagram feeds of young girls everywhere, being in the know is more crucial than ever.

Unfortunately, unchecked use of social media can lead to hours of lost sleep for teens (yes, teens admit to sleeping with their smartphones and even texting in their sleep!), privacy undermined, rumors being spread, school and social life being directly affected by online activity, and worse yet…becoming a victim or perpetrator of cyberbullying.

Teens absolutely need our help and guidance when it comes to online activity.

How

Start talking long before your teen is handed a smartphone and gains access to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Discuss rules of conduct such as the Golden Rule (Do Unto Others) and stranger safety (never sharing personal information or photos).

Draw up a contract and continually revise as needed. I love this mom’s iPhone contract for her son. It’s simple, honest, and necessary.

Be a team. Reassure your child you are not out to invade her privacy. You job is, and has always been, to keep her safe. Remind her of the reasons why your are tracking and monitoring her online activities. Don’t hide the fact that yes, you are stalking her in a way.

Teach your child how to take screen shots and report any online cruelty to you and/or a trusted adult right away. Empower him to avoid engaging in online rumors or teasing. Emphasize how these online words are forever and can quickly escalate.

Have a list of screen rules for the whole family which include, no phones/screens at the dinner table or in bedrooms. When it’s bedtime, make sure phones and screens are put to bed too and kept in another part of the house.

Most of all, be a good role model yourself. Monitor your own online activity. Use dinner and bedtime to talk with your teen about his day. And seriously, if you have a teen on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest…you name it…you really need to be there too.

So sign yourself up, become a social media maven, “friend” your kids on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, watch their photo streams on Instagram, and peruse their text messages.

And? Welcome to parenting in this brave new (digital age) world.

If you have a teen on any social media spaces, what are your tips for ensuring his/her safety?

Resources for parents on social media and teens:

Common Sense Media

Pew Internet and American Life Project: Teens and Technology

Talking to kids about social media (AAP, Healthy Children)

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3 Responses to Got a teen on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter? Then you should be there too
  1. Diana
    May 15, 2013 | 6:31 pm

    Ill start saying that i like your posts but… to be honest i do not think you should be on FB, instagram, etc or, if you are, dont ask your kids to “friend” you UNLESS (key word) you have an almost perfect and open comunication, there is a million things a teen does not want his/her mom to know and a mom does not need to know them i.e. problems with his/her couple, i personaly hide any hint of discussion from my mom because i know that her instinct of protection will change the way she is with my boyfriend. Thats is just a simple thing but there might be a lot more complex.
    On the other hand i do suport your idea of stablishing rules and talking about the dangres of the internet etc just dont attempt to control them, they will say stupid things just like they will do stupid things at school, they are teens in the end.
    And just to end this long post, a golden rule (in my opinion) for parents to follow: if you want your teen to trust you dont make a big deal everytime he/she tells you something they did! its just insane the way most parents overreact to their teens mistakes!
    Thank you and good luck!

    • Melissa
      May 17, 2013 | 11:11 am

      Diana, I appreciate your candor and think you make a very important point that parents should hear: resist the urge to overreact. I see this already with my little ones. Most of the time they just want someone to talk to when things go wrong. They don’t want us running out and telling another child that they shouldn’t be treating our children a certain way. Even if it’s true and even when our mama bear instinct kicks in. It’s a tough line to walk, admittedely as a parent.

      But I still think you should be your child’s “friend” on facebook. If there’s something you don’t want your parents to know, you probably shouldn’t be posting it on Facebook or anywhere else online. Because chances are, you are “friends” with someone on Facebook that cares as much about you as your parents do and would likely have a similiar reaction. Just my perspective, from a well meaning parent and pediatrician.

      • Diana
        May 17, 2013 | 12:33 pm

        Hi Melissa! im so glad you responded.

        The reasons i have against parents friending their kids on FB etc are based on 2 things:

        1.- Most parents dont have the trust of their children and do not respect either their privacy or the “dont overreact” rule so all they do is stalk the teen to know every little thing, overreact on everything even if it is the most innocent thing and ground them for thing they (parents) dont even understand because they dont see the entire context i.e. a comment made by a girl to his/her daugther like “omg u were so on that cute boy last night!!! <3" or so and the parents will probably make a scandal and even ground the girl for something that is only in the parent's imagination when in truth the girl was just dreaming to talk to that boy and nothing ever happened!
        This point is all about communication, if communication is good in the family there is no reason for all this to happen.

        2.- This will sound ridiculous but it happens. Their friends wont trust your kids if you are in FB and able to read everything your teen's friends post! Nobody likes a spy parent online! ive seen it among my friends and its both hilarious and sad they stop writing to the one who has her parents on FB because they fear they will tell their own parents about their life online.

        I hate writing so much but i rarely have the oportunity to exchange ideas with someone like you!

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