Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, TIk TOK, Facebook, etc… the World of Social Media!
You may not know what Snapchat is, but I bet your kids do. You will too after reading this article. If you are a parent of a teen or pre-teen you likely have worried or had anxious fleeting thoughts about your child’s use of social media. And how could you not? Adolescents now communicate most often via text message, and technology has become an integral part of everything we do. Nearly three quarters of teens either have or have access to a smartphone, according to PEW Research. You may be replaying all of the times you spoke to your child about stranger danger and making posts online that are too personal, but the social media world muddies the water by providing an illusion of safety and anonymity. Also, social media creates a desire to mindlessly scroll through feeds due to FOMO (fear of missing out).
Schools have replaced books with laptops and tablets, and even our TVs tend to be ‘smart’ with instant access to the online world. With this access comes not only instant contact with friends from school, but also instant contact with bullies and strangers.
Concerning Aspects of Social Media
- Access to strangers
- Checking compulsion
Making “Friends” across the world
One of the more exciting (and concerning) aspects of social media is the ability to meet and communicate with new people. This is not always a bad thing. Your young athlete may connect with another student athlete across the country and strike up a lifelong friendship. However, you can’t always be sure the person you are talking to is safe. People can easily pose as someone else. “Catfishing” is the process of using someone else’s name, images, or persona to take on a new identity. It has become common for people to take images off of one person’s social media page and post it on their own page to present themselves as a different age or gender, and to be more approachable and ‘trustworthy’ to your teens. Sadly, in our treating of tweens and adolescents in Western Pennsylvania at Angelus Therapeutic Services, we have seen multiple cases in which this scheme has been used to rope kids in to questionable situations.
Once someone establishes ‘trust’ with your child, they can ask for questionable images, videos, or a chance to meet up. All the while, your child feels safe and secure because this person is a ‘friend.’
Oversharing: Do your kids know what is too much?
All too often, once kids and teens become comfortable with their new online friends, those talks you had about cyber safety and stranger danger are forgotten and they become a lot more liberal in sharing personal information. Innocently putting up a picture of themselves in a softball jersey or at a school event can let the whole world know when and where they can be found. Posting a picture at a party drinking with friends, trying to fit in by putting up pictures of a new vape, or sharing a sexy photo with a girlfriend/boyfriend are all forms of oversharing. To a teen, this may seem harmless because I trust my boo and the photo goes away, right? Wrong. There are several direct messaging apps (similar to text messaging) that allow sharing of text and pictures. Snapchat, for example, seemingly deletes a shared picture after an allotted time frame (a few seconds), showing a “snap” of a person’s life. However, it’s all too easy to take a screenshot of the image on a mobile phone and upload it online. Once an image is uploaded to cyberspace, it is VERY hard to delete all traces of it. We have seen far too many kids learn the hard way that racy images spread through social media like wildfire and can come back to burn them years after the fact.
Where You At?
One potentially useful, but also concerning part of social media apps is the geolocation feature. Some apps such as MapMyRun and FourSquare show near exact locations of where the post was made. You may think that this data is stored privately, but a skilled person can access your data. MapMyRun may seem benign, but if you take the same trail, alone, every day at 7 am, you probably should not share it on social media. Additionally, Fourquare, Facebook, Kick, and Snapchat, along with many other apps, have “CheckIn” features that allow you to show all of your friends where you are and your personal favorite spots. Again, it may not be safe for young people to create a digital play-by-play of the places they frequent. There have been far too many news stories and movies about predators positioning themselves in those locations and hurting innocent kids.
Bullying has always existed and probably always will. Unfortunately, with modern technology, harassment now spans from school to home and beyond due to the rising amount of cell phone. Bullying doesn’t even have to take the form of nasty words anymore. Most smartphones now come with a camera, so one could easily snap an unflattering photo of a person at school and post it online for other people to make nasty comments. There are infinite ways to intimidate people using modern technology, including sending horrible texts to other kids suggesting they should kill themselves, impulsively sharing secrets that can ruin a kid’s life (abuse, addiction, bad choices), and a gang mentality that could rival those of prison inmates. Girls in particular are guilty of cyberbullying. Whereas a boy is more likely to physically attack or confront someone, girls will go will use social media platforms, where they can feel protected by the cyber universe and rationalize their behaviors because ‘everyone does it’ or even ‘they had it coming.’ ZDoggMD has a great five minute video expanding on this topic. It is worth a watch. The other thing to consider is the potential backlash to your child, if he/she has engaged in some of these behaviors. Sending out threatening messages via technology provides concrete evidence that can be used against them legally. A split-second impulsive choice can have legal consequences that follow your child the rest of his/her life. Be mindful that your child could both be bullied and be the bully.
Social Media Addiction?
A shift has occurred in our culture, and now technology and being “connected” have become part of daily life. You may be wondering if the phone has replaced real connections. And as a parent, you may be wondering if your child is addicted to their phone or if they’re even paying attention to what is in front of them. They may be putting themselves under extreme stress to maintain Snapchat ‘streaks’ (don’t know what this is, ask your tween/teen and they can explain) with people they don’t even talk to on a regular basis or have even met. Validate that you understand that it’s important to them but that it’s also important to strike a balance.
Notice if your child becomes overly-agitated when they are not on their phone or when you ask them to transition off. Pay attention to the time they are spending with friends, being outside, or going to activities. Be cautious of the kid who insists that they HAVE to have their phone or tech with them at all times. Have set ‘tech-free’ times in the house. Be an example by putting your own phone down when you are spending time together eating dinner, playing games, or talking in the car. Have them turn in their phones at night so that they are forced to wind down and separate from the constant stimulation of social media.
Parental Power in Social Media
So as a parent, what can you do to ensure that your youngster doesn’t feel left out but is safe while using social media? Below are some helpful starter points. Please feel free to add your own ideas in the comment section at the end of our blog. We love to hear the innovative and creative ideas you come up with!
- Get Over Your Tech-Phobia! – That’s right, you’ll need to do your homework and research what types of apps your child may be using on his/her mobile device. Get comfortable with the technology your child is using. They may be more familiar with it than you are. Here are some commonly used apps to become familiar with: Facebook, Snapchat, Kik, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook Messenger. Check your child’s phone regularly to see what they have installed.
- Set Limits- Limits on screen-time may look different for each family and that’s OK! The point is to make sure that your child is not neglecting other areas of their lives in favor of technology. Perhaps start with a rule of no screen time until homework is finished, or limit screen time to one hour per day. Or require them to complete chores or various activities in order to EARN their screen time.
- Check their privacy settings– Make sure they are set to private and can control who sees their posts. Many kids don’t give privacy settings a second thought and when marked public this allows ANYONE to follow you kid and know what they are doing and when.
- Monitor! – If you want to have access to what your child is posting on social media and who they are talking to, that’s well within you’re rights! It is OK as a parent to require that they share their passwords, and it’s even OK to check their messages. Start this when they first transition into the cyber universe, and it will become a normalized part of the experience and they will become more mindful of what they are downloading and sharing. They will need your help to make good decisions all on their own. There are even apps and technology that allow you to control your child’s app usage. This may include anything from limiting time to outright blocking certain apps. Click here for more information on parental control apps. A good rule of thumb is to say something to the effect of : “Assume every picture or post you make is going to be seen by your grandmother.” That is often a good (and comically light-hearted!) litmus test for what is appropriate to post.
- Keep in touch with their guidance counselor. Often, the guidance counselor is one of the first adults to know when your child has posted something questionable. Other kids will go to them with concerns when they see something that has pushed the boundaries. Be open minded if you get a call from the school. Chances are they may have made a bad choice, but this can be your oppurtunity to help them learn from it.
- Have an open dialogue with other parents– You cannot possibly know all of the hot apps and sneaky ways kids are using technology. Talk about it with parents you know, this way you can help each other and not get overwhelmed by trying to stay a step ahead of your child or the dangers out there.
- Finally, if you think your child has problematic social media usage and you would like added support, look around you and see if there are any parent groups, training sessions or seminars available to educate yourself further. If you feel like the problem is beyond your ability to manage or just feel out of your element, counseling can a great way to make a safe plan that everyone can get behind. At Angelus Therapeutic Services, we have several great therapists that specialize in working with teens and families. They can help guide you through this difficult period.
Blog Credit: Natalie Drozda, MA, LPC is a PH.D student in Counseling Education and Supervision at Duquesne University & therapist at Angelus Therapeutic Services