iParent: A Crash Course in Social Media, Part 2

Click here for Part 1 , Part 3 , Part 4 , and Part 5

This past fall, I surveyed high school students in preparation for a course for parents on social media that I was teaching. In the survey, I asked, “What is one thing your parents don’t know about your use of social media?” Here are some of the responses I received:
(those that appeared multiple times are noted)

They don’t know about my Twitter account. +teenager-phone
They don’t know I’m on Instagram. +
They don’t know who I’m following.
I have quite a few accounts.
I talk to guys.
I’m on there a lot more than they think. +
I block them.
I cuss on Twitter.
How many girls I talk to.
I’m not doing homework when I’m supposed to be. +
I talk to people I’ve never met. +
I’m on when I should be sleeping. +
I take a lot of pictures.
The videos I watch on YouTube.
The people I creep on.

I’m not an alarmist, by any stretch. Both my kids have phones; my oldest has access to the Internet on his phone. They both have access to the Internet at our house. They are active on several social media sites. We have and use all the stuff, but I also understand that social media and cell phones bring certain temptations and dangers to our kids that we never faced. That means that we have a responsibility to figure it out with them, and help them deal with those temptations and dangers.

Check out these quotes I ran across from teenagers regarding social media:

“There’s more ‘life’ happening online than offline. If you are not online, you are completely out of the loop–you don’t have a life, you don’t really exist.” –Hannah, 13 years old

“I’m online even during class. I’m supposed to be taking notes but instead I’m commenting on stuff and uploading pictures.” –Emma, 14 years old

“I feel safer online than I do offline. So I do things online that I wouldn’t do in real life.” –Sadie, 14 years old

“I’ve become very good at taking pictures of myself. I know what angle is best, I know how to part my lips…you know. It’s like the number one thing on my mind is ‘I need to get home right now and take a new profile picture.’ All because I want someone to comment on how I look.” –Katie, 15 years old

“Social networking affects all the things you do in real life now. Like, if you go to a party, one of the most important aspects of going to the party is to document yourself for online posts. You have to prove you were looking good, you were having fun, and that you were actually there! It’s not about the party anymore but about the pictures of the party.”–Caroline, 14 years old

“I feel sad, depressed, jealous, or whatever when I don’t get a lot of “Likes” on my photo or when someone else gets way more Likes than me. Honestly, I’m not sure that parents realize how drastically it affects our self-image and confidence. If I see a picture of a really pretty girl, it’s like ‘Goodbye self-esteem.’ It forces me to compete and do stuff that I don’t want to do, so my confidence will get a boost.”–Samantha, 14 years old

“Sometimes I feel like I’m losing control. I want my parents to tell me to get off the computer. Actually, they would need to literally take the computer away because I can’t stop myself.”–Nina, 15 years old

“My friendships are really affected by social networking. You have to constantly validate your friends online. And everyone’s like ‘Where were you?’ ‘What have you been doing?’ ‘Why haven’t you commented on my picture yet?’ So you have to be online all the time, just to keep track, so you don’t upset anyone.” –Jasmine, 13 years old

“There is so much pressure to look happy all the time-you can never just be yourself– because everybody is always taking pictures and posting them.”–Nikki, 13 years old

“I really want my mom to be proud of me. Obviously, I want her to think I’m writing my essay or doing things I should be doing instead of being on Facebook. But I also want to be online. So I lie or accuse her of not trusting me. It’s awful, but I’ve become really comfortable with lying.” –Maya, 14 years old

Clay Shirky, who teaches about social media at New York University said, “Digital media is an amplifier. It tends to make extroverts more extroverted and introverts more introverted. So we need to consider ‘How is this going to interact with my child’s personality?’” What we can see, then, is that social media makes insecure people more insecure. It makes confident people prideful; fearful people terrified; mean people merciless opportunists; judgmental people more critical, and the list goes on.

So what does that mean for you as a parent? We need to set limits for our kids (because they will not set them for themselves), and we need to be talking to them regularly about social media and texting. These discussions need to be ongoing and become more complex as kids get older; not less frequent and less involved. And we need to listen just as much, if not more, than we talk. Ask nonjudgmental questions in order to learn and assess. Questions like, “Hey, what’s the difference between Snapchat and Instagram? Which one do you like better? Why? What is your favorite app? Do you think texting and social media make your friendships better or worse?” If kids think they are going to be slammed by their parents on a topic, they will shut down. Be careful in how you approach the subject.

I’m not saying parents need to know everything; we need boundaries, too. But most of us need to know more than we do. If we give kids cell phones and Internet access without ever holding them accountable for how they use them, we’re setting them up for failure.

Next Thursday: Part 3 – Sexting

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