Teenagers Online: How to Manage Social Media Invasions

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Our household would be fairly reflective of a middle-income modern family today when it comes to the amount of technology available to us. We have two TVs, mobile phones for Mum, Dad and teenager and business owned laptop and iPads. On top of this my teenager was recently gifted his own laptop, for the primary purpose of completing school assignments. We are very proactive about how technology is used and monitored in our household, as we like to consider we are fairly ‘modern’ and tech-savvy parents. We have basic rules. No TVs in bedrooms. If laptops or iPads are being used, they are used in the communal areas of our house for all to see. Time spent on the technology is limited, and the devices are certainly not activated in brilliant and wonderfully sunny days! We are attempting to teach our children (including our very quick 4 year old who knows how to ‘swipe’) that technology is merely a tool and not the complete way of life. That technology does not replace the basics of good old face to face social interaction. And that talking, laughing and appreciating each other in our family is more important than eyes glued to a screen.

Our biggest amount of work, as many parents can appreciate, is the way in which we monitor and manage our teenagers use of social media sites. Of course our younger children do not have an awareness (yet) of Facebook, Twitter, tumblr and other such sites. But it seems every week our nearly-15 year old is wanting to access the myriad of applications on his smart phone that allow him to have more and more ‘cyber-friends’. So our concerns around who he is socialising with, what he is being exposed to, and how to keep him safe at a time of his life when he is particularly impressionable are compounded with the inclusion of such social media sites.

The first thing we decided as a parenting team is that there is no such thing as our son’s right to privacy online. We agreed to him having a Facebook page, on the provision that we knew his password and that all his notifications came to our email address. If he didn’t like it, he didn’t have the page. He knows that at anytime we can intercept messages and read things on his page (we are his Facebook friends too). We could have simply denied him Facebook, but with the proviso of having access to the page, we felt we would be in the best position to walk alongside him and support him in understanding online-etiquette. Some would argue this is an invasion of his privacy. We rationalised that if he was prepared to put things online, then they were not subject to privacy. We were not sneaking into his bedroom and reading through a diary hidden away for only his eyes. He was sharing things on a public forum, and as his parents we had a responsibility to ensure what he was sharing was appropriate and safe.

By having access to our sons facebook password, we were then in a position to work with him to adjust his privacy settings. This is where as a parent talking with our teen was imperative. Many parents not experienced with social media sites plead ignorance and therefore abdicate responsibility. Instead we decided Facebook was here to stay (until the next big thing) and it was our responsibility to teach our son about the audience he was prepared to share his daily life with, as well as the potential dangers for him in doing just that. We continue to have many discussions around who sees what is on his page and the long term footprint he is leaving in cyber space. What seems to work at the present time is utilising his interest in girls. We ask him to consider the possibility that one day his future father-in-law may want to see who his daughter may be preparing to spend the rest of her life with! Or the very real notion that a review of his profile page may be the deciding factor determining his employability with a future employer.

It is our responsibility as the parents of a teenager to firstly accept the invasion of social media into the daily lives of our children. Given this technology is here, we cannot assume our children know how to behave appropriately using this form of communication. So what do we do for our children if they don’t have the skills to behave in a new social context? We teach them. We talk to them, assisting them to make connections between our family values, expected behaviours and how to use the social media in a responsible manner. And then we monitor their online behaviour, with their full knowledge. Because being a teenager, he falls down lots. He makes bad judgments and struggles to see past the present day to any future consequences of such choices. So we assist him to see these, keeping his behaviour in context and viewing it as yet another learning opportunity on the path of life.

They say parenting is one of the hardest jobs a person could ever undertake. And I’m pretty sure this was said pre-social media. Now, it’s just got a whole lot more complicated!

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