Editor's note: If you're an innovative educator in secondary school, you are likely to have parents ask for your expert advice on teens and social
media. You can give them this article directly or use it to get some
ideas about how to best approach the conversation.
If you are a parent of a teen, you already have a lot of experience
working with your child(ren) to help them figure out how to engage
safely and responsibly in the world. You've thought about which (or if)
school is the best, which clubs they should join, which friends they
should hang out with, which groups they should be a part of, and when
and where they can go and hang out safely.
your child becomes a teen there will be some new places for you to
think about your child being a part of. That is because at 13 your child
legally old enough to join popular social media sites like Twitter,
Instagram, Facebook, and more.
good news is you are prepared to do this. You have experience in making
sure your child is engaging safely and responsibly in environments that
are beneficial. What you've done in the physical world is exactly what
you should do online.
the time comes, be prepared to "discuss" not "tell" your child how to
remain safe and responsible online. It is likely they already know what
to do if someone writes something that makes them, or someone they know,
feel uncomfortable. For
example, you can block or report them to the space. Also discuss what
to do if they find someone is making someone else uncomfortable.
it is usually not what is best. Try to remember when you were a teen
and how you felt when something was forbidden. That thing suddenly
seemed very special. In some cases, it drove the activity underground
and made it secret. Or in some cases the teen does what they are told
just because you say so, but...
you want to help instill the ability for your child to make responsible
decisions independently and, if you want your child to make smart
decisions, rather than just do what they’re told, then banning is not
would probably start by talking to your child respectfully, just like
you would if they wanted to go to a new school or join a new program.
You would want to know why they are interested in this school or
program. Maybe it’s to make new friends, learn new things, get better at
something they love to do, or maybe they think this might be the ticket
to making the world a better place. All of these reasons your child
wants to belong to physical spaces can apply to online spaces.
out who your child knows who is using this platform and ask your child
how they use it? Take note of news stories of people using this platform
in both successful and unsuccessful ways. Discuss with your child what
ways they envision using the space. Find out the types of people with
whom they hope to connect and interact.
is of utmost importance. By the time they're a teen, you've already had
conversations with your child about how to remain safe in physical
spaces. For example, if someone says something that makes them
uncomfortable they should leave the situation and find a trusted adult
to discuss what happened. If they live in New York City, they know, "If
you see something, say something" (to the proper authorities). You'll
have the same conversations when it comes to online spaces.
it comes to using social media, don't be surprised with the amount of
common sense teens have today. They've grown up in a social world.
They've heard the stories, watched the media, and likely even watched
adults in their lives using it.
rather than a passive bystander. Talk about ways you can verify
identity, just like you would do with face-to-face connections. For
example, before you would engage in ongoing conversation with someone,
you’d want to know a little more about them. How old are they? Where do
they work or go to school? What sort of conversations are they involved
in? Make sure your child know how to do this by doing things like
checking profiles across platforms, looking at posting history, doing a
if, however, your teen just wants to use social media to socialize and
stay abreast of their favorite teen idol. Well, that's not much
different then when you were a teen. There were teen magazines, posters
of their favs on the wall (True confession: for me it was Blackie from
Days of Our Lives). The bonus with this is they'll be reading and
writing more for real audiences. Research indicates that improves
in public, whether it's in the form of blogs or microblogs, like a
Twitter stream, is forcing us to be clearer, more convincing and
smarter. A big audience isn't required. Knowing your write for an
audience of just a few people will force you to stretch and grow." - Clive Thompson, Wired
you don't feel capable or knowledgeable enough to discuss this with
your child alone, be honest. Discuss with you child if there is a
trusted friend or family member that could support you both as you enter
these waters. Dana Boyd says one of the most important things you can do is help your child develop a support network.
a parent, there are times your kid won’t want to talk to you. So the
more you’ve thought through how they have a support network that’s not
just you, the better off they’ll be when they hit any bump. And
increasingly, the way that happens is online. As a parent, you can also
reach out to other kids in your friend networks, so you’re an adult
those kids can turn to.”
children are likely to need social media for academic and career
success. Talking to your child about how to do this safely and
responsibly is an important part of your job as a parent today.