Being good parents to our high school-aged teenagers is challenging enough as it is, but factor in the new realities of social media and you have a doozy. Gone are the days when getting your kids to help you clean up was daunting (and you can find someone to do it better), now it’s more important to have a one-on-one conversation about the realities, benefits, and risks of their social media use — a conversation based on openness and empathy instead of confusion.
With such a complex landscape of online interactions happening right under our noses, it’s easy to panic! Explaining social media awareness for students might not be easy, but the key is to be open-minded; show them that you care and that you’re willing to go a step beyond just moralizing and giving them cliché warnings. Follow these five tips to talk sensibly to your teens about social media.
Be a mentor, not a micromanager
Teaching social media responsibility is difficult, and the biggest mistake that parents can make about their children’s social media usage is to act as an authoritative figure instead of a sensible guide. Coercion, instead of open-ended conversations, will prevent kids from making smarter decisions, both in their online and face-to-face interactions. Parents who “take away” a smartphone or cut their kids off from accessing the internet are falling into this trap—the better option is to encourage your teens to self-reflect. In time, self-reflection leads to self-regulation.
Get savvy about the apps they use
It’s a mistake to think that social media begins and ends with Facebook: Other social platforms like Snapchat, Musical.ly, and Tik-Tok, to name a few, are extremely popular with teens nowadays. Many parents can fall into two distinct categories: First, there are the ones that are blissfully ignorant of what kind of apps their children use; then, there are those who have only a superficial understanding of them to act scandalized. Not only will spending some time with those apps will help you know your kids better, but give you a better understanding of the pressures, passions, and emotions they feel.
Social media is now part of “the talk.”
Having a healthy, open-ended conversation about sexuality and relationships nowadays needs to touch upon the role of social media, sexting, and photo sharing apps. These are all part of how teens socialize nowadays and have a big impact on their face-to-face relationships as well, so it’s important that you have a judgment-free understanding of these to be a better guide to them. Both of you need to learn the long-term social and legal consequences that misuse or mishandling of explicit photos or messages can have, and that’s a key to developing a healthy vision of emotional and sexual relationships for them.
Maintaining their privacy in an increasingly open world
It might be challenging to grasp how many things are commonly shared by teens on social media today. Names of friends and family, hobbies, photos, their current locations, schedules, and more are part of their online identity as much as it is offline—notice that “real life” is not a distinction that can be done so quickly now. Still, there are many things that your kids must protect or share to keep a healthy distance between who they are in social media and who they are outside of it, and the privacy of their families as well.
Venting their emotions
Social media makes teens feel like they’re being listened to, which means that it’s the place where they feel more validated to vent. While this can be done constructively, remember that teens are still developing their emotional and social skills. They often lack the impulse control to stop engaging people in anger and frustration. Understand the challenges they are facing so you can help them understand the consequences of venting their negative emotions without a filter in a public (and permanent) forum like the internet.
It might be a bumpy road at the beginning, but walking it hand in hand with your teenagers is essential. The more you talk and level with each other, the easier it will be to guide them and offer your help when they need it—in other words, to be the parent they need.