These are the questions that I received and answered in January’s teleseminar on Social Media and Your Teenager.
Let me know if you have any questions that you would like answers to. I want to support you in being the best parent that you can be for your teenager.
How involved should I be in the content of their interactions online?
This is a very personal decision to make. How much privacy do you allow your teen to have? Do you track their every move online. It depends quite a bit on how much you trust your teen to make good choices.
Research also shows that children whose parents closely monitor their friendships and behavior become resilient adults. When the parents are uninvolved, that’s a risk factor for potential behavioral problems.
I would suggest that you make it a point to be involved on some level, but also respect your teen and their desire for privacy.
Should I be able to see everything that happens on Facebook and texting?
It is interesting that new businesses like SafetyWeb have popped up. SafetyWeb charges $10 a month to monitor all social networks and text messages and give parents alerts and reports. “We will even know about cussing,” said Gretchen Pahia, spokesperson for the California company.
I’m not sure that monitoring your teen like a private investigator is such a good idea. While it can be challenging, it is much better if you can develop an honest relationship with your teen.
Should I friend my son or daughter on Facebook?
My short answer is yes. But, it depends on a couple of things. Parents have different approaches to dealing with their teens’ privacy. From full disclosure and password access to granting complete freedom.
The truth is that young adults’ brains aren’t developed enough to think of long-term consequences of their actions until their early 20s, says Linda Fogg-Phillips, a Las Vegas author and lecturer on Facebook and families.
Half of the 75 adults in her Facebook for Parents study group at Stanford said their children won’t friend them.
“What do you mean?” she asked them. “Don’t you feed them and give them shelter? In my house, if they want dinner, they are my Facebook friends.”
Take a look at my post “Facebook: Should I Friend My Teenage Son?” for some more detailed ideas on this question.
There is a lot of room for differing opinions on this issue and ultimately you have to follow your parenting instincts.
Here are some tips from Facebook on how to start a conversation with your teenager.
- Do you feel like you can tell me if you ever have a problem at school or online?
- Help me understand why Facebook is important to you.
- Can you help me set up a Facebook profile?
- Who are your friends on Facebook?
- I want to be your friend on Facebook. Would that be OK with you?
How much time is considered reasonable for teens on social media?
This is a question that so many parents are asking.
As you can probably guess, media use by children and teens has gone way up in the last five years. A big part of this is growing use of mobile devices, such as smart phones. A 2010 study claimed that young people now devote an average of 7 hours, 38 minutes to daily media use, or about 53 hours a week, which is more than a full-time job. Some research has shown that only about 1/3 of parents set any limits on screen time for their kids. I think that it is very important to help your teen by setting up some reasonable boundaries. Here are a couple ideas for you.
1. Establish an electronics curfew. You can require that all video games, computers and phones be shut down by a certain time at night. This is helpful b/c teens will often stay up late texting, chatting, playing games and they may not be good at knowing when to shut it all down.
2. Put a priority on non-internet connected activities, such as family dinners without tv or smartphones, going on hikes or playing board games. This can be like pulling teeth at times, but your teen may end up enjoying the opportunity to unplug.
3. Set up routines. Help your teenager set up routines for getting homework done before your they get on the computer.
4. Model the behavior you want to see. It will be hard to tell your teen they are spending too much time on the computer if you’re parked on the couch with your own laptop every night. Think about your own use of technology and what kind of example you are setting. I know that I definitely spend way too much time on my iPhone at times and I have to consider how that is affecting my kids.
5. Show some understanding. Understand that remaining connected to friends online and with texting is important to your teen. Of course, you want them to balance their priorities, but their social relationships are necessary.
6. Implement new rules. If you are creating new rules consider sitting down with your teen to discuss what is fair and reasonable, giving them a chance to have some input. Then be flexible if your new rules are not working and adjust them as needed.
How do I know if I can trust my kids to use social media responsibly?
I believe that you as a parent are the expert on your children. I often encourage parents to trust their own instincts about how to handle situations with their teens. You know if your teen likes to take risks, if he has a track record of making poor choices or if he has friends that you know are trouble. There is a good chance that you have a gut sense about whether or not you can trust your teen and if you should be closely involved.
How do I teach them to want to make good choices about what they watch? So its not me setting the boundary but good disernment becomes intrinsic for them?
As parents, we do our best to give our kids the tools that they need to be responsible and make good choices. It is our job to teach them, protect them and support them when they get themselves in trouble. The challenging part about the teen years is that your teenager may not have the same value that you do about making good choices. In fact they may want to do the opposite.
The truth is that you will likely need to set the important boundaries throughout the teen years while you pray that they are learning good discernment. Developing maturity and critical thinking is a process and for some teens it takes more time than others. Sometimes, it takes quite a bit of patience on our part. Realize that you are providing important life lessons for your teen, even when it seems that all your wisdom is not soaking in.
How do I protect my kids from cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying has been a huge topic in the last few years. Bullies have been around forever, but social media has provided a powerful platform for threats, humiliation and harrassment. It is the type of issue that doesn’t really hit home until it happens to your teenager or one of their close friends. This is where equipping your kids with good information can really help.
It is important to teach your teen morals they can apply to any situation, whether they are behind a keyboard or not.
Sandra Dupont, a teen therapist in Los Angeles has some great tips on this subject.
1. Be kind, courteous, honest and polite when online. Lessons you have learned about social behavior applies to your online presence as well. Your words online represent who you are as a person. Be sure you represent yourself well.
2. Don’t forward hurtful emails to or about others. If you are upset with someone, have the courage and consideration to speak respectfully to them about your concerns. Bashing others in an annonymous fashion does not resolve problems.
3. Don’t post photos or videos of embarrassing personal moments. Although possibly humorous at the time, you really do not want photos of yourself (or others) floating around forever on the Internet for all to see. Those photos may later come back to haunt you in the form of damaging your (or someone else’s) reputation. – problem of other people posting photos of your teen
4. Don’t visit sites that put down other people. Even though you may not be posting the the damaging commentary, viewing hurtful information about others for the sake of your entertainment is still just as wrong. (as you are encouraging that behavior)
5. Speak out against online bullying. If you are witness to someone you know being bashed online, you have the opportunity to name it as “bullying.” If you do not feel safe doing so, then can report the information to a trusted adult.
6. Don’t believe vicious rumors that are being spread online. Just because you read something online does not mean it is true. There is a saying in our legal system: “Innocent until proven guilty.” Do not jump in and continue the spread of lies designed to hurt someone.
7. Protect your password. Often, friends share their password for the sake of being able to post things on other’s walls, pretending to be someone else. The problem is, you can get in a lot of trouble for the things your “friend” posts using your name.
8. Make sure to know the person you add to your “friends” list. Although it can be a game to accumulate as many “friends” as possible, it is safer to actually limit your friends to the people who actually are. Predators, posing as teens, may ask to become a “friend” so that they can learn about that teen’s behavior and location.
9. Don’t engage in online exchanges with Cyber-bullies. Let’s say someone is bullying you online. DO NOT RESPOND TO THEM ONLINE. Instead, block the sender’s email and/or delete them from your “friend’s” list. Then copy and save the cyber-bullying message in a file to use for evidence should you decide to make a report to school, police or the Internet provider.
How do I protect my kids from inappropriate information?
The truth is that we can never protect our kids from everything in life that may hurt them. However, we can take some important steps to decrease the likelihood that they are exposed to inappropriate information, such as drugs or pornography. The best start is with early education about online safety before your child is ever online without supervision. You can install filtering software on all of your computers to block out the most inappropriate sites. You can enable parental controls on iPods and iPads that your kids use.
You can encourage your kids to talk to you when they stumble upon something they know they should not be seeing. Assure them that they will not get in trouble for being honest. The tough part is that teenagers are always exploring, discovering and wanting to learn about life, especially the things that are forbidden. As a parent you can do your best to set them up for success and then try to be OK with the fact that they are going to make mistakes and hopefully learn from them.
What can parents do about sexting?
Sexting has had a lot of mention in the media in the last couple of years. Basically, it refers to the sending, receiving or forwarding of sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude photos through text message or email. This is serious because of several unexpected negative consequences, including embarrassment from such pictures spreading to unintended people, emotional harm and damaged reputations.
Sexting can even become a legal issue because it is essentially possession of child pornography. You can have honest conversations with your teenager about the specific issue of sexting and talk about how to handle such a situation if they are ever in that position. If you find out that your teenager has been involved in sexting make sure they stop immediately.
Find out if the pictures were sent to anyone else. Delete the photos. Try to have a calm and supportive talk about what happened. Communicate with other parents if necessary. If the situation is more serious you may want to consult a lawyer, the police, or other experts on the law in your jurisdiction.
Here is a resource with more information on how to handle this difficult issue. Click HERE.
Other important issues
How do I help my kids develop good social skills online?
I would say that the social skills your teenager has developed in life will likely translate to the online world. If your son has a crude sense of humor and likes playing pranks, there is a good possibility that he will be doing some of those things online. As parents, we natural teach our kids social skills from a young age and part of this learning process is translating those skills to their interactions in social media.
I would also add that the example you set, both online and off will have an impact on the choices your teenager makes. For some of us, being connected to our kids online may cause us to think about the choices we make and what kind of social skills we are modeling.
Are teens vulnerable to imitating what they see on Facebook, YouTube, etc.?
I think the simple answer to this question is yes, teens are vulnerable to imitating what they see online, from the relatively harmless example of copying a skateboarding trick to more serious things like learning how to build homemade bombs. It is important to have some knowledge of what your kids are into online, because it can be a huge influence.
Some kids are more vulnerable than others and social media has taken peer influence and pressure to a whole new level. This is where having an open and honest relationship with your teenager is invaluable.
How do I help my child explain to a peer why they aren’t ‘allowed’ to be friends with them on Facebook when it was our decision as parents to limit our child’s contact with that inappropriate ‘friend’?
This is a great question and definitely a challenging issue to address. I would recommend doing some role-playing, practicing how to share this information and exactly how they can word it. The best approach is to be honest, but use kindness and grace. This might be quite difficult, especially if your son or daughter does not agree with your decision.
How do I know if my teenager is addicted to social media or the internet?
Here are the top 10 warning signs of internet addiction. If your child exhibits three or more of the following traits, it may be time to intervene.
- Time warp (the inability to determine time spent in online activities)
- Changes or disruptions in sleep
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Losing interest in other hobbies and recreational activities
- Spending more than three hours a day, more than four days a week online
- Physical ailments: backache, carpal tunnel syndrome, nerve pain, eye strain, etc.
- Emotional disturbance when online access is taken away
- Withdrawal symptoms after online activities: headache, malaise, light-headedness
- Continued excess despite serious adverse consequences
- Spending ever-increasing amounts of time online
If you are concerned that your teenager or one that you care about may be having emotional or behavioral problems, consider talking to a professional counselor. It is always good to get help and support early for teens who are struggling.
Photo credit: matt hutchinson