There’s a strange phenomenon happening on my social media feeds lately. Every day I click onto sites like Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook (although not as often there!) and have friend or follow requests from my 13 year old son’s friends! I’ve known most of these kids since they were in Kindergarten; I’ve been connected with their parents on these sites for years. I’ve seen them grow, shared in their athletic triumphs and cheered their academic successes in photos and statuses through Mom and Dad’s eyes. Now, they are junior high students venturing into the world of social media on their own. The conversations have changed, the pictures are selfies and there are a ton of abbreviations that would make a seasoned code breaker sweat!
I’m sure a number of my fellow parents are in the same situation and wonder how to handle this new influx of virtual friends. Here are some basic guidelines that I follow to be a good adult in a teen world!
- Don’t friend if they are under 13 years of age. COPPA – The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act prevents sites from collecting personal data from children under 13, which is why most sites have a 13+ requirement. If a child under 13 is on the site this means they have lied to be there by changing their birth date during registration. I feel by friending them I would be essentially saying it is okay to break the rules.
- Interact but don’t smother. There is no need to post a comment on every single picture they post on Instagram or to re-tweet every tweet. If they think you are hovering, they will block you!
- Interact but don’t embarrass. A simple “Congratulations!” when they win the big game or a “You look beautiful!” on the picture of her dressed up for the dance will suffice and convey the excitement and pride you feel. Save the “I remember when….” comments for in person interactions or for a private message.
- Don’t parent on social media. If you have an issue with a post or comment the teen has made, address it in person, via phone or by private message not in the comments section. Discuss your concerns directly with them and give them the respect of a two way conversation. If you feel the content is threatening to their safety or well-being, by all means, call their parents and voice your concerns.
- Respect their privacy! Enjoy the access you have been granted but don’t abuse it. Don’t use the information you gain through these channels to tease, embarrass or gossip about the goings on in the teen’s life with your teen or other adults. (Actually, this is pretty good advice for all your online friendships!)
Becoming active in social media is a big step for a teen. Like with all of life’s big transitions they need guidance from adults but also need the freedom to explore. Teaching our teens social media is a lot like teaching them to drive: we can’t press the brake pedal or take the wheel for them but we can guide and teach them before they take that wrong turn. So, Buckle Up!
I would love to hear your opinions and some guidelines you use while following and friending your teens online! Comment below and be sure to follow this blog for future posts about parenting in the digital age.