The day your adolescent forays into the world of teen social media can be a scary one. No surprise now that there’s no way for you to control everything your adolescent sees or posts.
For some parents, this can lead to a sort of “techno-panic.”
“We’ve been led to believe that there’s some 50-year-old man hiding behind a My Little Pony avatar waiting to abduct them,” explains social media expert Jennifer Posner Lehner. “That hype doesn’t match the reality.”
Fact? Most adolescents use social media safely. Here are four easy social media rules to help assuage your worries.
Teen Social Media Rules
1. Channel Grandma.
Social media platforms are very public and somewhat permanent. Help your adolescent understand this with the “Grandma Rule.”
“If you wouldn’t feel good with your grandma seeing what you’re about to do, then don’t do it,” says Dr. Lisa Damour, a clinical psychologist and director of Laurel School’s Center for Research on Girls.
2. Learn New Tricks.
Instead of balking at your adolescent’s (many) selfies, ask for her help in creating your own Snapchat, Twitter, or Instagram accounts.
“’What’s a hashtag? Who should I follow?’ These questions create a meaningful engagement, not just policing,” Lehner says. “And what they don’t teach us, we need to teach ourselves. We need to get in there.”
3. Recruit eyes and ears.
Hopefully, your adolescent will be willing to “friend” or “follow” you on social media. Or, you can find a stand-in—like a friend or relative—with whom your adolescent is willing to connect on social media. This individual can keep a quiet eye on your adolescent, with the understanding that if they see something fishy, they will inform you. Note: Be upfront about this with your adolescent. Snooping mostly backfires.
4. Set boundaries.
Though your adolescent may object, it’s your right to set social media rules (or any technology for that matter). Start with a conversation. “It’s helpful to sit down as a family and decide what you’re trying to protect,” Damour says. “You might talk about sleep. You might talk about protecting social skills and their development. Or study skills or safety.”
“If you decide that protecting sleep is a priority, then your rules flow from that,” Damour explains. “Your rules might be, ‘The phone goes in my room before you go to sleep’ or ‘You shut down the technology an hour before you go to sleep.’”
It may be tempting for you to try to monitor your adolescent’s every social-media move. But remember when you were an adolescent? When you hung out with your friends at the mall or gabbed on the phone? Chances are you didn’t want your parent overhearing those conversations.
“Teenagers are so busy these days that sometimes the only way they can get together is online,” Damour notes. “We need to be respectful that they deserve and need some time together, but they need to behave in a way we can feel good about.”