To help you keep your kids safe from harm online, we recently shared five expert tips for managing your kids’ social media use. But the threat of harm doesn’t just come from online strangers and predators. In fact, it most often comes from your child’s closest friends. Dr. Marion K. Underwood, who was been conducting research studies in teen texting and social media use for 13 years, and who spoke about the results of that research at our recent Hinckley lecture, partnered with CNN and Anderson Cooper to uncover the Secret World of Teens. What they found may surprise you.
Do You Know What’s Happening Online?
In one survey, 94% of parents underestimated the amount of fighting their children were involved in on social media. And 60% underestimated how lonely, worried, and depressed their kids were. So what might be the reasons that parents seem to be so unaware of what’s going on in their teens’ online lives? The answer isn’t simply apathy. Most parents say that they do indeed attempt to monitor their children’s social media activity. The answers are more complex:
- The subtleties of exclusion and social combat are difficult to spot, especially for parents who are not particularly literate in regards to social media.
- Kids don’t talk about the kind of conflict they’re experiencing online because they feel parents can’t help.
The most effective way to reduce these kinds of conflict, according to our expert, is to communicate openly, and to be an active participant (with your own account) on social media.
Malevolent behavior is undoubtedly experienced by teens in the real world. And the online world is no different. 47% percent of teens from the #Being13 survey said that they felt purposely excluded by their friends online. And 36% admitted to purposely excluding others. Teens notice, but do their parents? Several forms of online aggression may be taking place in your child’s social network that you may not even recognize.
Besides negative comments directly aimed at others (something you’re likely to spot if it’s aimed at your own child), there are other forms of aggression that can be detrimental to adolescents’ self-confidence. One prevalent means of online adolescent aggression manifests itself in the repugnant form of exclusion. Kids exclude others by:
- Not tagging certain people in group photos.
- Saying negative things about someone, without mentioning their name, a practice known as “Subtweeting.”
- Making events on social media, without inviting certain friends.
“[Exclusion through social media] is a powerful form of social aggression,” says Dr. Underwood. “It is so subtle that its considered bad form [for teens] to respond. And [those who exclude] can do it with the full expectation that they will not pay one single social consequence.”
Is Social Media Addictive?
Research shows that social media users can indeed show signs of, if not an outright addiction, a heavy dependence on social media.
“I think they’re addicted to the peer connection and affirmation that they’re able to get via social media,” says Underwood. “So it’s not the screens. It’s not the devices. It’s the access that social media gives them to each other.”
Communicate and Participate
Open communication with your children can effectively remedy these kinds of problems. Here are a few suggestions from the #Being13 experts:
1. Talk with our children about their online lives and what they’re doing on social media. We need to get them talking to us from a young age.
“Parent monitoring effectively erased the negative effects of online conflicts of children on social media.”
2. Encourage them not to keep score. Don’t worry if you’re not tagged. Don’t tally up your likes. Don’t exclude other people. Just enjoy being connected with good friends.
3. Help kids remember that it’s possible to have fun in other ways.
4. Use the strength of your relationship with your child. Get them away from social media periodically – not as punishment, and not by ripping it out of their hands, but by simply reminding them that if it’s making them feel bad, they can find lots of alternative ways to interact with their friends and others.
For more specific, research-based tips on interacting with your kids on social media, check out this Y-Magazine article, How to Like Your Teens.