Dear Big Mother:
It’s so smart that you’re concerned about this issue. Recent research shows that if you count all the time that teens check in or post to social media, it can add up to several hours a day. As parents, we have to accept that this is the new reality, but at the same time remain aware of the potential dangers.
What you may not know is that social media is constantly evolving, with new platforms and different types of technologies and communication styles being introduced all the time. So the first thing you need to do is find out which social media platforms your daughter is using. It’s not uncommon for teens to have as many as five or even 10 different social media apps downloaded on their phones.
Second, you’re right to not try to monitor or police every single thing that your daughter is doing on social media. She does need some freedom to explore. After all, it’s developmentally appropriate and healthy for teenagers to be pushing away from their families and be more influenced by peers. Distancing themselves from mom and dad is what adolescents do, and it’s a normal, healthy part of growing up.
But it is important to educate your child about online safety, especially regarding social media. Think of it this way: It’s second nature for parents to remind their child not to talk to strangers or get into a stranger’s car. Similarly, we should be teaching our kids how to be cautious online and appropriately suspicious of friend requests. And sure, it would be a lot easier if our kids only accepted requests from friends and not strangers, but we both know that's unlikely to happen. So, as parents, we need to trust that our teens are making good decisions.
One of the best things you can do is to have a strong offline relationship with your daughter. Yes, we are living in a digital world, but it’s so important to find times throughout the day when you and your daughter and everyone else in the family put away your screens and talk to each other, face to face. Maybe you set a time during family dinners or for a couple of hours over the weekend when there are no phones, no internet, no social media.
The most important thing is to establish a trusting relationship with your daughter so that you can have open and honest conversations about social media use—and everything else, for that matter. Teenagers love to talk and they love to be asked about their opinions. Naturally, you don’t want to be authoritative and judgmental—the goal is to be real and direct. Sharing stories from when you were a teen, especially times when you might have made bad decisions, will really help open up those lines of communication.
And finally, there’s so much emphasis these days on the negative aspects of social media, but it’s worth remembering that there are a lot of positive sides to technology, especially for teens. For instance, if a teenager feels isolated or ostracized, social media can provide a potential respite, and help them feel less alone. That’s a truly wonderful benefit.