Do your kids roll their eyes and complain when they find out you just opened your own account on Instagram, Snapchat or VSCO?
No doubt you’re feeling pretty proud and tech-savvy because you finally figured out what a hashtag is, how to send and receive a snap, or add a filter that gives you bunny ears or a flower crown? At least I know I was!
My teens will moan and groan when I join them on their latest social media channel, but I don’t think they really mind. In fact, they recently talked their dad into getting his own account, and they love to laugh at his goofy selfies. They’re ok with us looking at their pictures; we’ve mutually agreed we’re allowed to like, but not comment. Occasionally, they’ll ask me why I don’t just stay on Facebook?
And, here’s the reason: because I want to know what they are doing online. I want to know what they are putting out there for the world to see. I’m not trying to catch them doing something bad, I’m simply observing. Is that so wrong??
“I think it’s an excellent idea for Mom and Dad to be on social media,” says Julie Freedman-Smith of Calgary’s Parenting Power. “Our kids need to know we’re watching. This is not a private place where you go to hang out, this is a very public place and you’re there too. So, make good choices or you don’t get to be there.”
This summer, I saw something on my daughter’s social media account that I considered inappropriate. I asked her to immediately remove it, and when she got home, we had a discussion about what was wrong with the post and, as a consequence, she lost her phone for several days. She wasn’t happy, and was rather annoyed that I had seen it.
It was at that point she accused me of “spying” on her, to which we quickly replied..we’re not spying, we’re parenting online!! If I saw her doing something stupid, or inappropriate, outside of school, at volleyball practice or hanging out with her friends, I would have done the exact same thing. And hey, we’ve all done stupid things, it’s just that when we were young, the world wasn’t watching and waiting for us to mess up.
“Spying implies that our kids don’t know we’re watching. Watching implies that they’re fully aware,” says Freedman-Smith, advocating full disclosure with your teen.
I’m not sure how all of you moms feel about this, but I don’t want to be that parent who turns a blind eye to my child’s social media account. I feel it’s my responsibility, as a parent, to take an interest in what they’re putting out there, to guide them and, most importantly, to keep them safe.
“At Parenting Power, we feel parenting online is extremely comparable to parenting offline,” says Freedman-Smith. “If they’re at a friend’s house or a new activity, we can drive there and check it out. So, it’s kind of the same thing when our kids go to all of these places across the world on the internet.”
I know many moms will say they’re too busy to have another social media account, and that’s ok…you don’t have to. But, perhaps you can strike a deal with your kids to have their passwords and access to the phone when asked…a random “cell phone check” is a good idea.
Talk to your kids about the relationship between trust and freedom. Explain that as long as they make good choices, you are much more likely to give them more freedom. But, as soon as that trust is broken, there may be limits on that freedom.
And, to the teenager who insists he or she needs their “privacy” and you have no right to be in their social media world with them, just remind them that privacy really doesn’t exist on the internet, even when we think it does. “Anybody can snap a picture and send it anywhere. Social media is not private,” says Freedman-Smith. “Typically, things we do online come back to haunt us.”
If you have a teen or tween on social media, here are some things to think about and discuss:
- discuss limits and what is/is not appropriate to post BEFORE they have a social media account
- discuss the ramifications of posting things that are illegal (under age drinking, drugs, nudity, etc.)
- talk about the BIG picture – how social media accounts can be viewed by teachers, coaches, university recruiters and potential employers, etc.
- make it clear that they must be your friend or allow you to follow them on social media
- have access to their passwords and do social media checks as often as you feel necessary
- if necessary, deliver immediate consequences – losing the phone, grounding, revoking privileges, etc.
- as a parent, if you are paying for the phone, you have the right to monitor and take it away
Most of the time our kids are doing harmless things online – they’re playing games, they’re being silly with their friends and taking selfies. As long as they’re being careful (and not divulging private information), social media is usually a fun, safe place for them to hang out. I’ve just decided that I want to hang out there too. But don’t worry…no comments. 😉
I would love to hear from you on this issue. Moms, do you follow your kids’ accounts? What are some key things you talk to your teen about online?
For more resources about online safety, you can follow these links: