Being a child/teen today is vastly different than how parents today remember. Our world growing up consisted of family, neighborhood and school. Our ability to connect and hang out with friends (pre-driver’s license) was restricted to those we could access by foot, bike or parental drop-off.
Reality is certainly very different for today’s teens!
Teenagers currently have access to a far greater scope of relationships because of social media. Many of them identify some of their closest friends as those that live in different towns, different states and even on other continents – some of whom they have never met in person!
So how do we accept today’s reality regarding social media and friendships while also keeping our kids safe and ourselves sane? It’s tricky to navigate, but below are a few suggestions:
- Educating our kids about technology at an early age is a must – even as early as 5 years old!. Help your kids understand what is expected of them on social media and where the line is that you do not want them to cross. Teach them how to ask an adult or trusted friend if an interaction begins to feel inappropriate.
- Understand and accept that your teen has a whole life online and potentially a persona that others follow – think of Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat, etc. Instead of restricting use, be more involved – follow your child online, or sit with him or her to see what is being posted. Many teens use these platforms to share poetry, music, comedy, and limiting access to a creative outlet would be counterproductive.
- Some teens use various platforms as their personal journals - they may not want to share with you what they post. In this case it is important that your teen understands the importance of anonymity – not posting personal identifying information such as real names, location, etc.
- Teach your child how to deal with trolls and negative comments online. Help them feel safe coming to you if someone is making comments that make them feel uncomfortable.
- Do not disregard the connections or “friends” they make online. Being dismissive or disapproving of these friendships can lead to secrecy on your teen’s part. Learn about these friends as you would do the ones that live in your town. If a person wants to meet up and your child thinks you will automatically say “no” they are going to be hesitant to ask for your permission. Be open to the idea of your teen hanging out with someone they meet online. There are safe ways to make this happen.
- Host the meet-up at your house while you are home
- Talk to the new friend’s parents and invite them over – they might be just as curious and skeptical.
- Organize an outing in a public place with friends and/or family in tow.
Embracing our teen's online life can be overwhelming and scary but the more we restrict, the bigger the potential for dishonesty. Talk to your teen and come up with ways to navigate the unknown together.