Teens, smartphones, Facebook, Instagram, and a myriad of other social apps. What do they have in common? Well they simply go together these days. Just look around and if you spot a teen, he/she is likely virtually connected, phone firmly in hand.
The social landscape has certainly changed since our own teen years and it’s up to us as parents to catch up.
There really is no other option.
Just as we would inquire about where they’re going and who they’re going with, we must stay just as vigilant about their online activity.
Perhaps even more so.
93% of teens are on some form of online social media. Most of them choose Facebook. Everywhere we go, teens (and it’s not just teens, it’s our culture now) are on their smartphones; checking the latest Facebook status updates or Instagram pictures from their friends.
Just this past weekend, I was at the park with my kids. Two teens were huddled on a slide together, phone in hand. Their conversation revolving around what someone posted on Facebook.
What’s the harm, you might ask. Perhaps (and hopefully) none, but it’s easy to see how this constant connectedness can quickly go awry. Teens are, by nature, impulsive and they’ve got a lot going on. Both physically and emotionally. Being able to communicate with such immediacy and in a dangerously public way can have significant negative consequences.
In 2011, one million children were harassed, threatened, or subjected to cyberbullying on Facebook. Of these children, only 10% of parents were aware of it.
55% of teens on Facebook gave out personal information to someone they didn’t know. And only 34% of parents say they regularly check their child’s social network sites. And with “beauty contests“ popping up in Instagram feeds of young girls everywhere, being in the know is more crucial than ever.
Unfortunately, unchecked use of social media can lead to hours of lost sleep for teens (yes, teens admit to sleeping with their smartphones and even texting in their sleep), privacy undermined, rumors being spread, school and social life being directly affected by online activity, and worse yet … becoming a victim or perpetrator of cyberbullying.
Teens absolutely need our help and guidance when it comes to online activity.
Start talking long before your teen is handed a smartphone and gains access to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Discuss rules of conduct such as the Golden Rule (do unto others) and stranger safety (never sharing personal information or photos).
Draw up a contract and continually revise as needed. I love this mom’s iPhone contractfor her son. It’s simple, honest, and necessary.
Be a team. Reassure your child you are not out to invade her privacy. You job is, and has always been, to keep her safe. Remind her of the reasons why your are tracking and monitoring her online activities. Don’t hide the fact that yes, you are stalking her in a way.
Teach your child how to take screen shots and report any online cruelty to you and/or a trusted adult right away. Empower him to avoid engaging in online rumors or teasing. Emphasize how these online words are forever and can quickly escalate.
Have a list of screen rules for the whole family which include, no phones/screens at the dinner table or in bedrooms. When it’s bedtime, make sure phones and screens are put to bed too and kept in another part of the house.
Most of all, be a good role model yourself. Monitor your own online activity. Use dinner and bedtime to talk with your teen about his day. And seriously, if you have a teen on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, you really need to be there too.
So sign yourself up, become a social media maven, friend your kids on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, watch their photo streams on Instagram, and peruse their text messages.
And? Welcome to parenting in this brave new (digital age) world.
-Melissa Arca is a pediatrician who blogs at Confessions of a Dr. Mom.