Encouraging Healthy Social Media Use

Posted on October 6th, 2016

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Today’s teens are heavily connected to one another and the world through technology. More than fifty-five percent of teens go online several times a day, and nearly seventy-five percent of teens have or have access to a smartphone.* In addition, social networking is on the rise. Seventy-one percent of teens use more than one social network site, with Facebook being the most frequently used site.*

There are many benefits of social media participation such as: building relationships, increasing awareness of current events/issues, developing a sense of self, and exercising creativity and critical thinking skills. However, since teens are still collecting life experiences and developing maturity, this easy online access can lead teens to troubling situations such as cyberbullying, exposure to inappropriate content, and sexting.

Just as we prepare our teens for the real world, we should also prepare them for the social media world. Here are some tips on how to keep your teen smart and safe in the online world:

  • Learn about these apps and sites firsthand. There is no better way to understand what you teen is doing than to do it yourself. This will make it easier to converse with your teens about these technologies, and having your own Facebook or Instagram profile will enable you to “friend” your teen and become a part of their online world.
  • Keep the computers in a public part of your home. This will make it easier for you to check on what your teen is doing online and how much time he/she is spending there. The lack of privacy may also be a good deterrent for your teen to engage in anything inappropriate.
  • Teach teens that everything sent over the Internet or a cell phone can be shared with the whole world. Many teens do not understand how a Facebook post lasts forever, how quickly a Tweet can be forwarded, or how “deleted” photos are stored on the iCloud. In addition, they may not know the impact inappropriate online posts and photos can have if a future college administrator or employer were to see them.
  • Talk with your teens about sexting. They may not understand this is a serious crime with consequences, quite possibly involving the police, suspension from school, and notes on their permanent record. Also, be aware that sexting rarely occurs through the built-in texting system that cell phone companies offer. Messaging apps like Kik, WhatsApp and Snapchat allow people to message each other without it showing up on the phone bill. More than thirty-three percent of teens with phones have such apps*.
  • If you are going to monitor your teen’s use, be open and honest about it. A teen’s phone and/or computer has become the modern-day diary. If your teen was to find out that you were snooping through their electronics, he/she would likely feel violated and trust would be impaired. Rather than sneakily looking through your teen’s electronics, let him/her know you are going to check his/her phone or e-mail on a regular basis (if you are going to do this). Let them know if you require all of their usernames and passwords, as well as if there are filtering or monitoring software on their electronics. This might not be an easy conversation with your teen, but being upfront is better for your relationship (and sanity) than playing detective.
  • Establish expectations and consequences. Surely your home has expectations and rules around homework, driving, and curfew; electronics and social media use should be no different. Rules should include hours of use, purchasing apps or game add-ons, social media etiquette, as well as any monitoring expectations you will enforce. The best way for families to agree on ground rules is to create a contract that everyone signs.
  • Be a good role model of how to use social media. If you are posting selfies 24/7, updating your Facebook status at a stop light, or leaving an unkind comment on Twitter – remember – your teen in watching and you are setting the precedent for social media usage.

The ever-expanding realm of social media and technology will continue to make more information and ways of communicating readily available. While this can sometimes be difficult to navigate, with these tips, you can successfully prepare your teen for what he/she might encounter on the Internet or on social media.

*Pew Research Center; Teens, Social Media & Technology Overview 2015

Additional Helpful Resources:

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Would you like additional guidance in this area? Teen Therapy Center provides individual teen therapy, family therapy, group therapy, parent support counseling, and in-home teen and family coaching 7 days a week, including afternoons, evenings, and weekends. For more information, contact us at 408.389.3538.