Social media is part of every teen’s life and, let’s face it, part of ours too. As parents, our first instinct is to keep our children away from any danger, and social media presents many. What concerns us is that many of the threats are hidden, and platforms continue to change and evolve, making it hard to keep up. So what can we do as parents to ensure our children are safe on social media without alienating them from their peers?
We know as parents, we won’t always be there to protect our children from harm, whether it be crossing the road to their first broken heart. However, we can help by giving them the skills they need to use social media safely.
One excellent resource for educators and parents alike is “Common Sense Media“. This is a great resource that outlines all the latest platforms and talks about their potential dangers. The goal here is not to get caught up in this aspect, but to realize that technologies range in safety. It is also crucial to have open discussions with your teen.
Rather than presenting your teen with data, some great conversation starters can include:
‘What’s your favorite app?’
‘I know Facebook isn’t cool anymore; what’s cool these days?’
If specific social media sites that pose more significant risks are on your teen’s list, it is essential to determine their understanding and awareness. It is also a great way to keep the open discussion ongoing and understand what they are using so you can help them set up some guidelines for responsible use.
After you better understand your teen’s social media usage and awareness, you can set up a contract for use together. A contract is also essential as it ensures that expectations are clear, so if your teen is falling outside of them, you can have a candid discussion, for example, ‘We agreed we would use x site for x. I see this month you have gone over that, is there a reason for this?’ rather than, ‘You are using x too much.’ – we all know that in our teen’s eyes, it will never be too much! A contract also puts them in charge of monitoring their usage rather than you as a parent being solely responsible for this task.
We also play a large role in our children’s responsible media usage; for many working parents in Hong Kong, this is a challenge as we are often tied to our own devices. However, we know that our media usage serves as a role model for them. Are device-free evenings part of the household routine? When engaging with your children, is your device nearby? As parents, we have all been guilty of devices interrupting time with our children, sometimes for legitimate reasons, however it is crucial to think of how we can make an effort to model good behavior. When our devices take us away from our teens, be sure to offer them some context if possible and appropriate.
Build Real-World Connections
It is easy to forget, especially in 2020, that a world exists outside of the online, and making real connections is essential. As physical interactions are restricted these days, a great way to encourage bonding with your child is to enjoy one of their favorite apps or games together; this also keeps communication open and is a great bonding experience. Even better, watch a unique documentary and discuss or even introduce them to relics like Monopoly!
What teens often don’t consider is that behind each avatar lies a real person. Realizing that online personas can usually differ from reality, and encouraging them to look behind the image, allows them to form deeper connections. You can guide them in these conversations to learn to gauge what’s real and understand that what people present is only part of the picture.
Be aware, don’t judge, but seek help!
As social media evolves, so will your child’s usage, and it is vital to stay aware of their usage patterns. A guiding principle is always to consider the following:
- Frequency: is social media use impacting other parts of their lives?
- Experience: is it causing them to act differently than before?
- Sustainability: do you see a pattern that lies outside their norm, such as a spike in usage?
If you answered yes to two of these questions, it might be useful to have a more direct and honest conversation, which shows concern and care, not judgment. ‘I noticed you had not been x because of x, is there any reason for this? I am just a bit worried.’ Don’t be afraid to seek expert advice, including your school’s counselors, when you feel concerned.
At Stamford American School, digital citizenship and the skills to help students follow responsible use guidelines are part of the core curriculum. Supporting these initiatives are experienced counselors, faculty, and ICT professionals. To learn more, go to www.sais.edu.hk today.