As a parent, it can be hard to keep up with all the social networking sites out there. When my kids were in their early teens, it seemed that every time I got a handle on the various social media sites they used, they would be on to the next new thing. When my son was in middle school, it was all about Myspace. Then Youtube became big and “everyone” was posting videos of skateboarding face plants and other death defying acts. Next there was MyYearbook, with Facebook and Twitter soon following. Skype was introduced somewhere in there, but it took awhile to catch on. With the advent of Android and I-phones, and the subsequent available apps, it seems the social networking world is growing exponentially.
I was reading an article recently which likened Facebook to a chaperoned dance. The perspective was that even though kids have Facebook accounts, most of their actual social interactions are being done on other sites and apps that can’t be monitored as easily by parents as Facebook can. It seems that for the under 15 set, the places to be are Instagram, Snapchat and Kik. For those of you not familiar with these social media sites, I’ll give you a brief overview as I understand them:
- Instagram is a photo sharing site that allows the user to digitally enhance photos and publish them to an online account. Photos can be viewed by other users via followed “feeds” and also shared to other social networking sites.
- Snapchat is another photo sharing/messaging app that has an included “self-destruct” feature. The user sets up a time limit for what is sent and it automatically deletes after that time. It is possible for someone to take a screen shot before the message deletes, however.
- Kik is a messaging app that allows for greater anonymity than the standard phone text messaging because there’s no specific number linked to the text, only a user name.
These are just a few of the many apps available for teens to use, and new ones are popping up every day.
The truth is, this generation is more plugged in than any previous generation ever was. They can find out anything about anything with simply a touch of a button or a swipe across a touch screen. Many of their social interactions are conducted via cell phone or computer. Where you and I might have met after school and talked about what we were going to be doing this weekend, kids can talk to people in the next town, the next state and even the next country without leaving their rooms.
Quite awe-inspiring if you ask me. Also, quite scary, because it brings to the surface how little you may actually know about what your kid is doing or who they may be talking to.
So, what can a parent do in the face of all of this technology? What can you do to keep your kids safe?
Step 1) I think the first step may be accepting the fact you’re not always going to know where your kid is or what he is doing. As scary as it may feel to admit this, you’re not always going to know who they are talking to. If you think back to when you were a teen, can you honestly say your parents knew where you were 24/7? While some may be able to answer “yes,” the vast majority of us won’t.
Step 2) Once you accept that inevitability, you can start focusing on where you have the most control: the skills you teach your child and how you respond to his choices. We have several articles on Empowering Parents that discuss how to set limits, coach your child through difficult situations and, when they make a mistake, problem solve ways they can handle a situation better in the future. Reviewing some of these can help you come up with a plan for achieving that goal.
Step 3) Familiarize yourself every now and then with what’s new in the tech world so you’re not caught unawares when something new comes on the scene. It’s also OK to limit the amount of time they spend in front of a screen, whether that is TV, computer, iPad, iPod or cell phone screen.
Step 4) Sit down with your child and talk about all of this technology — the good, the bad, the cool and the not so cool. Role model how to use this technology appropriately. And, though you may talk about instances of kids using this technology inappropriately as a way to start a conversation, try to remember there also are a lot of kids who do use it appropriately.
The most important piece in all of this is you — though I know there are times it may not feel that way. It helps to keep in mind the ultimate goal of parenting: helping your child become a successful adult by teaching him the skills to enable him to make well-thought-out choices. Parenting is a tough job. But, then again, so is growing up. Understand your child is going to make mistakes and bad choices. Help him use those choices as the learning tools they can be.
Denise Rowden is a parent of two teens: an 18-year-old daughter and a 19-year-old son. She has worked in Special Education, Alternative Education and adolescent group homes. She has a BS in Psychology from the University of Southern Maine and is currently working on her Life Coach certification from the International Coach Federation.