Guiding your teenager’s social media use
By Cary and Tonja Rector
Think you know your teen’s social media platforms? Facebook, Instagram and Twitter—right? How about Snapchat, Vine, Tumblr and Kik? Ever heard of Pheed? All of these social media sites are available as apps. Kids do not need a computer to access them. As a matter of fact, they probably prefer to use smartphones. They can use their phones to take pictures or videos and upload them directly to the sites. Today’s teens are the digital generation.
The world has changed dramatically from the time you were an adolescent and is continuing to evolve rapidly. Your parenting skills need to evolve in order to keep up.
We are often asked questions about how to handle a child’s social media use. When should a child get a cell phone? Should it be a smartphone or one that can only call or text? Is it appropriate to view a teen’s text messages and follow what they are doing on social media? Should he be allowed to use social media—and if so, at what age?
Parents frequently express concern regarding cyberbullying, sexting and use of inappropriate content and language—and they should be concerned. The news is filled with examples of social media’s involvement in everything from sexual assault to harassment to teen suicide. A clearer understanding of teen behaviors can help parents form appropriate social media strategies.
Better understanding of neuropsychology has helped explain irrational and seemingly “crazy” adolescent behavior. Brain development is now understood as more fluid and capable of change over more years than previously thought. While it’s true that approximately 95 percent of brain development is complete by age 5, the most “advanced” parts of the brain complete their development in early adulthood. And how important that last 5 percent is!
These more “advanced brain features” include impulse control, emotional regulation and rational decision-making. Teens have difficulty processing social emotions, especially fear and anger. During adolescence, thought and action outpace judgment capabilities. Adolescents essentially have a temporary neurological condition, resulting in deficient controls to modulate impulses and understand outcomes. This leads to some of the unpredictable, surprising and dysfunctional behavior parents can encounter.
As a parent, try to take the perspective that you need to teach your adolescent how to become a functioning adult. In today’s world that includes instruction on the best use of social media and means parents need a working knowledge of sites kids use. Don’t fear the technology: Get involved. Ask them to show you around their favorite websites or social media platforms. Ask what they like about each one and how kids are using it. Let them educate you.
As we said, a teen’s brain is still developing decision-making skills. Teens aren’t always good at self-regulation. Parents have to monitor and set boundaries. You know your children best. Use your judgment about when they are ready for their own cell phone or are allowed to join social media platforms. Once you think they are ready, learn, monitor and set limits.
Parents should look at all aspects of a teenager’s use of technology. Be honest, and let your child know you plan to monitor his behavior, much as you do in other aspects of his life. If you find he is behaving inappropriately, there will be consequences. Let him know you will look at his online postings and follow what is going on. Agree to stay in the background and not comment on pictures or posts unless it is OK with the teen. Spot-check texts.
Be aware of any drastic changes to his activity on social media. A sudden drop in traffic on a site could mean it’s fallen out of favor, but it could also mean there’s trouble or another “unofficial” profile has been created. Social media sites are where kids gather and hang out. Take time to keep tabs on where they are.
Although we don’t recommend it, there are ways to monitor a teen’s use of technology that the teen is unaware of (perhaps). Tracking and notification programs are available. The problem, however, is once the parent has concerning information in hand, it’s necessary to reveal to the teen how the information was gathered. She might feel her privacy was violated and any meaningful conversation is then impossible. Not to mention the teen brain could easily conclude, “If they can sneak, why can’t I?”
Social media has some terrific benefits. The Internet has made it possible to connect with people as never before. Have an interest, hobby or life situation? There is likely an online group exchanging ideas, support and information. Keeping up with friends and family separated by distance or busy schedules has never been easier. Teens love to talk to and be with each other. Social media platforms are today’s gathering places. Check them out: It’s where you can find your kids.