Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Teens and Social Media

I recently wrote an article about teens and social media use for Hometown Magazine. Hometown is a really neat magazine that has a publication specific to the Clinton, Brandon, Madison, Brookhaven, and Rankin County areas. I laughed at myself when I was writing it, because I sound so very serious. But in all honesty, it is a serious topic. I don't have a pre-teen or teenager of my own yet, but I can't begin to count the number of clients that I've seen who've had problems with social media use. It's absolutely one of the most common issues that I see. The name of this article is teens and social media, but really it's a good idea for us to all check in with ourselves from time to time and make sure we're using social media in a way that's healthy and positive. 

I doubt you will be able to read the picture of this article very well, so here it is!

Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter—there are too many social media sites out there to count, and the number is continuously growing. Teens make up a large percentage of social media users, with many young people first receiving a phone at ages as young as 10 or 11 and with many kids receiving a tablet or laptop at an even younger age. When used appropriately, social media can be positive—a low pressure way to encourage peers, a great way to keep up with distant friends and family, and a fun way to share good news. However, as a counselor I have seen social media use become a negative thing for teens far too often— sending and receiving inappropriate pictures, viewing inappropriate content, taking part in dangerous conversations, cyber bullying, and phone addiction are just a few of the issues that I see daily.

Considering this information, it may be easy for a parent to think, “Well, they just cant have a phone EVER,” but that isnt realistic or necessary. Social media use doesnt have to be a big, scary issue—it’s just one of many areas where your teen needs some guidance. Im so encouraged by all the teens I know who do use social media in a way thats healthy and age appropriate, and by following a few guidelines, parents can make sure theyre steering their kids in the right direction:

Communicate clear expectations. This includes setting some ground rules. In the same way that you wouldnt let your young teen make his or her own rules regarding who they spend time with, when they do their homework, or what time they go to bed, its important that you also provide clear rules regarding social media use. Some of these rules might include not allowing certain apps until a particular age, designating certain times as phone times, not allowing your child to take their phone to bed with them at night, and having an absolute zero tolerance policy for any sort of inappropriateness or unkindness towards others. By clearly establishing these expectations when your child is young and sticking to them, you communicate a high standard of accepted behavior.

Remember, in the same way that youre in charge of your home, youre in charge of your teens phone and computer.  This means that in the same way your teen receives consequences for breaking rules in real life, they receive consequences for breaking rules when online. Determine what these consequences will be and stick to them.

Be involved. In the same way that you are involved in your teens real life activities and friendships, be involved in their social media activities. Theres little that alarms me more than hearing a parent say, “Well, I dont know what shes doing on that phone. I just know shes on it constantly.” You certainly dont have to track his or her every move, but have an idea of what your teen enjoys doing while on their phone or computer. Know what apps they have, how they work, and follow your child on each form of social media. Know who theyre talking to and what sites they like to spend time on.

You dont have to do these things like a spy waiting for your child to mess up. Be interested and involved in all your teens friendships, activities, and interests. Be excited about the things that make them excited. Engage them in fun conversations. Assume good from them until you learn otherwise. This way, it feels only natural for you to show interest in their online activities as well, instead of like youre trying to catch them doing something wrong.

Privacy is a privilege, not a right. I am all for giving teens an age appropriate amount of privacy and independence, but a phone is not a diary or journal. Its a device that will allow your teen to be in touch with literally any other person in the world at any time of the day or night, and if youre going to give a 13-year-old that sort of access, its wise to check in on them from time to time. Establish early on that you have the right to look at their phone occasionally, and do so as you feel is needed. Know the passwords to their email and social media accounts. Listen to your instincts—if you feel like somethings wrong, theres a good chance youre right. Check a young teens online activity occasionally to make sure theyre not headed towards a potentially inappropriate situation. As your teen gets older and consistently demonstrates responsible online behavior, you can back off on checking in on them as frequently.

Set a good example. Ultimately, your example speaks more loudly than any rules you set ever will. If youre checking your Instagram every fifteen minutes, using Facebook as a means to engage in conflict with others regarding your many opinions, or constantly comparing your life to pictures that you see others post, youre setting an example that your child will certainly feel free to follow. Make sure that youre using social media in a positive, uplifting way. Make sure that youre uplifting others in general instead of letting your teen hear you gossip or treat others unkindly.

Ultimately, these guidelines really arent about setting and enforcing strict rules. Theyre about guiding your teen toward becoming a person of character—someone who treats others with kindness, respects boundaries, and represents his or her self with integrity, whether online or in the real world. Social media isnt bad in itself, and you wont ever be able to protect your teen from all the bad in the world or control everything they do. However, you can do your best to point them towards positive experiences that help them become people of character. Go out of your way to encourage experiences that help build your teen up—such as positive friendships, school activities, involvement in a church youth group, or any good activity that helps keep them from spending all their free time staring at their phone.  Always strive to create a warm, open relationship with them so that they know youll be there for them, even if they do make a mistake.

Thanks for reading!


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