I recently met with Victoria Mueller, PhD, Licensed Psychologist about the latest research on teens and social media, ideas for starting conversations with your teen about social media use and helping your teen navigate the challenges social media brings. You might see “teen” and think this doesn’t apply to your young child. Don’t wait! All of this information is critical and the earlier you start talking to your kids about social media and building a solid foundation, the better.
The most important thing I learned? Instead of focusing on how much time your child is spending on social media, see what he/she doing on social media (what is he/she liking, commenting on, what his/her friends are saying/liking about your child’s posts). This is a fantastic window into the mind of your child. A beautiful dialogue can begin, “I see you liked this picture. Tell me more about what you liked…” You can use the acronym “OARS” – open ended questions, affirmations, reflections, summary) as a good way to talk about your child’s social media use. Another tip is asking your teen how social media makes him/her feel (especially right after it’s used).
Start early! Make it known from the beginning that part of having the privilege of a social media account means that you’ll be monitoring the account(s) and will know the password(s). Dr. Mueller mentioned that some of her patients’ parents come to her with distressing information they’ve seen on their children’s accounts, but won’t address it with them because they don’t want their children to know they are monitoring the accounts. So it goes unmentioned. Let’s ensure we monitor (33 percent of teens think their parents know a lot about their social media use) their site history, their followers, social media profiles, messages sent and received. Follow them, have their passwords, talk to them about their brand. They can control it, and how they are perceived is extremely important to them. Talk about your family values (and their values). Realize that you won’t know everything, but that is a part of empowering them (and providing a safe place for them to land when things go wrong).
I present to middle schoolers about social media in their lives. It’s comprised of research, personal experience and anecdotal information with the goal of educating them on how to be safe when using social media. In preparation for these presentations, I ask 10 survey questions ahead of time to better understand their digital life.
Over the years, I’ve seen a large increase in the percentage of kids that have a cell phone. This is immediate access to the social world (and requires our attention). Another key area of needed education is keeping passwords private (many say it’s okay to share them with their best friend). In addition, there are always kids who say that they’ve seen something online that has made them uncomfortable, making a regular dialogue about social media critical.
In terms of cyberbullying, teens are more likely to tell a friend (26 percent) if they’ve been bullied rather than a parent (15 percent). Dr. Mueller believes this number is so low because many times, teens fear that our gut reaction is to restrict social media usage. That’s not a reasonable approach for a teen who craves and needs social connectedness. Instead, ask an open-ended question like, “how to you want to solve this? I am here to help and support you.” Talk to your kids about cyberbullying, and how to be an upstander instead of a bystander.
We need to start talking about sexting. According to a study from the UT Medical Branch in Houston, 57 percent of teens have been asked to send a nude photo (and more than 28 percent of teens have sent a nude or semi-nude photo). All it takes is one forward and that picture is everywhere. Not only are their legal ramifications (this is considered child pornography), but there are too many stories of teen suicide linked to sexting. I’ve added sexting to my middle school presentation, Ask your teen to think through a scenario of what could happen to that photo if your boy/girlfriend gets mad at you? Breaks up with you? Phone gets stolen?
Overall, know that social media can be good. Beginning in middle school, the desire to belong is exceptionally strong, and social media can provide a sense of belonging and connectedness. It also gives the opportunity for self-disclosure. It’s another avenue to get us talking with our kids, discussing values, and providing a safe place for them to land.
Additional kids and social media reminders:
- Talk, talk, talk about social media (in addition to your expectations and cautions, you can discuss social etiquette, what he/she likes about social media, how he/she spends time on social media, how it affects mood, he/she is worth more than number of “likes”, etc.).
- Tumblr is a media sharing platform to watch for as there aren’t many controls and filters.
- Of the three most used platforms, I was floored…Facebook is one! As parents, we think it’s become the network for us, but 76 percent of teens have a Facebook account (79 percent have Snapchat; 73 percent have Instagram).
- MRIs have shown that “likes” on social media triggers the brain neurologically. The effect is a strong feeling of happiness.
- Most teens are sharing a lot of personal information (real name, birthdate, school).
- Social media is a way teens express their romantic relationships (think emojis).
- Social media can impact what your teen views as normal or good (i.e. if your teen sees pictures of friends drinking alcohol have received many “likes,” drinking may seem more appealing).
- Rather than eliminating social media usage, be a supportive problem-solver ask an open ended question like, “how do you want to solve this?” For consequences, Dr. Mueller usually recommends restricting social media access for a few days at the most.
- If you fear your teen is addicted to social media, reduce the time spent using it little by little.
- Talk to you child about advertising. It is how many sites make money, instill skepticism as these companies are very good at targeting based on demographics and browsing.
- Be aware of your social media use and set a good example.
- Be cautious of unspoken approval – viewing content without actively discussing the content.
- Keep posts “light, bright and polite,” a recommendation from smartsocial.com.
- What your teen is doing on social media may be more important than how much time spent on it (pay attention to what your teen “likes”).
- Texas School of Safety Center
- Smart Social (excellent parent app guide)
- Common Sense Media