Social media is now an essential fiber in the thread of most adolescents’ social life. Kids and teens use social media everywhere. They use it at home, on the road, and even at baseball games. Although it is impossible to be absolutely certain that your kids are free from social threats on their social sites, parents can take some small and simple steps to secure some online safety for their kids and peace of mind for themselves.
One of the leading experts in teen social media use, Marion K. Underwood, visited BYU campus two weeks ago to present her findings on the subject. She suggests that parents:
Follow Their Kids
If you don’t have a social media account, get one! Your children can benefit from knowing that you will see what things they post, and some of what will be shared with them. Being your child’s friend and follower is a simple way to stay aware of what they experience, and even show you care.
Also, make sure to be more than a passive observer of social media content. Participate! Post, like, and comment on different material. Being a more active participant in social media will help you understand where your child is coming from. Dr. Underwood, as she received likes and responses to her personal social media content, recounted, “I was amazed at how thrilled I was.” She now has a better understanding of what her children feel as they participate in social media conversations.
Experiences like these will help you to empathize with your child. “By creating your own account and joining these platforms,” says Underwood, “You will understand the power of digital communication in a way you never thought possible.”
Take Away Phones at Night
“85% of the students in [our] study said they slept with their [phones] under their pillows so they could hear an incoming text message in the middle of the night. Disruption in sleep is terrible for adolescents,” said Underwood.
Further, when teens are alone in their rooms, they are more likely to subject themselves to negative content, which is widely available on all platforms. Making this quick rule will lessen the likelihood of teens dwelling on negative messages.
Set Specific Guidelines for Specific Situations
“I think we all need to structure our homes and our children’s time to avoid over-involvement with social media,” says Underwood. She suggests at least two ideas:
- No phones during meals.
“[This includes] family meals at home, at restaurants, that includes parents – everybody has to put their phones away.”
- No phones in the car.
“A rule that I had when I would miss my work time to drive children around in carpools was ‘no phones in the car,’ said Underwood. “If I’m spending my time to take my young ladies places, I wanted them to converse with me. So I would say, you’re not going to look at your phone . You’re going to talk about your day. And every family can come up with their own set of guidelines.”
Further, children and teens are capable of doing a lot of good on their various platforms. Encouraging children to engage in pro-social behavior on social media can be beneficial to overall mental health and well-being.
Setting these kinds of boundaries doesn’t absolutely assure that your home’s parent-child interaction will be full of green pastures, but it does mean that family stability will more easily prevail over the outside social world.
Social media is a big deal to your kids. “Online experiences [are] vitally important to…students,” Underwood said. “When we asked them what was more important, their offline social experiences or their online experiences, they said online social experiences were more important in their lives.”
“I’m not a big fan of monitoring software,” says Underwood, “Young people are very smart about how to get around it and platforms change all the time. Our best hope of influencing their online conduct – their online experience, is to use our relationships to discuss with them.”
Invite Children to Help
Children and teens can help you to help them. Dana Boyd, author of It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens wrote: “What makes the digital street safe is when teens and adults collectively agree to open their eyes and pay attention, communicate, and collaboratively negotiate difficult situations.”
“Teens need the freedom to wander the digital street, but they also need to know that caring adults are behind them and supporting them wherever they go.”
You can have a positive influence on your children. It is never too late to begin implementing guidelines for a positive social media experience.
You can view Dr. Underwood’s full lecture here: