Teens and Social Media: Promoting Self Expression and Safety!

One of the biggest challenges of parenting in a digital age is helping teenagers to strike a healthy balance in their use of technology as a means of communication.  Communicating using social media is a relatively new phenomenon and is certainly something that many parents do not have direct personal experience of from their own childhoods. From meeting with parents at our parent seminars in schools throughout the country, we regularly hear about the concerns that parents have about what their teenager is being exposed to online. One huge challenge unique to dealing with teens is allowing space for self-expression while still ensuring that teenagers stay safe and make smart decisions when they are online. Here are some tips to help you support your teenager to create a balance between both expression and safety when using social media.

Privacy is important both on and offline: Personal privacy and its importance is most likely one of the first things you taught your child from an early age. Having regular conversations about the importance of protecting their online privacy is a great way to get a sense of what your teen is sharing when they are using social media. Given how quickly social media moves, comments can be posted often without much thought as to the consequence. Often an almost competitive culture of what is known as ‘oversharing’ can occur on social media. Remind your teenager of the importance of considering their privacy and that of their friends when they are commenting or sharing content via social media.

Be conscious of fake news: Paper never refuses ink and the internet never refuses a good story! We all need to be regularly reminded that not everything we read online is accurate or in some cases even remotely true. Social media can be breeding ground for over exaggerating, embellishment or fact altering. Encourage your teen to rely on their gut feeling and to suspect that if something sounds too good to be true it probably is! Try to find some examples of fake news and talk to your child about these stories and how to spot fake news on social media.

Be aware of airbrushing: Teenage girls and boys are bombarded with images on social media. They also share images with their peers and sometimes with people not known to them. Images that are shared online are often edited to make them look different from the original by using a technique known as airbrushing. At a stage in their development where they are very conscious of body image it is important to remind your child that many of the images, in fact the vast majority of images they see when they are online, are airbrushed. Encourage your teen to develop a smart way of viewing the images they see online and to realise that many of these images have been altered to look a certain way.

Reflect before you post: It’s understandable that teenagers can get caught up in the moment when it comes to using social media, particularly if they are sharing an update with friends. However, no matter how private the settings on an account are or how well they may know the people they are sharing content with, it is imperative to stress the importance of how easily content can be changed and how what is posted cannot be easily deleted or permanently erased. Encourage your child as much as is practical to take a step back for a moment before they post on social media. With younger children we get this point across by asking then to think of the following scenario: Don’t post anything online that you wouldn’t be willing to wear on a t-shirt for a day. It certainly encourages reflection!

Social media and all that comes with it is going to be a central feature of the future. Helping your teen to negotiate this terrain by making smart choices about the content they view and share online is definitely giving them skills that will stand to them.