A guest post from Dr. Birute Regine, author of “Iron Butterflies: Women Transforming Themselves and the World”
For weeks, Rene had been badgering her parents to let her have a gmail account. All her friends in middle school had email accounts, so why couldn’t she? Every time she asked she got the same answer. “Maybe later, maybe later.”
“We weren’t sure if she was responsible enough to venture out in the social media world,” Rene’s mom Linda told me. “I feel like I have to be the gatekeeper. I need to protect her from the horrible things in our society that basically want to flood into her life.”
During school lunch Rene would complain to her friends about how annoying her parents were. “They keep stalling with me! I’ll never get on gmail.” Her friend Cheryl said, “I can help you set up an account. It’s easy. We’ll just give you a fake name.” “Really?” Rene replied. “That would be awesome!”
Rene felt a twinge of doubt, but set it aside, assuring herself that her parents wouldn’t be too mad if they found out. That afternoon, Cheryl set up an account for Rene.
One day, Rene was surfing the web and found herself in a google+ group. “It’s not a bad thing,” Rene told me. “You connect with other people that you know. Sometimes people post things that aren’t too great though.”
She had had her account for only a week before her mother found out. Rene was logging in at her home computer when Linda walked by. “What are you doing, Rene?” Linda asked. Caught red handed Rene fessed up and said she had a gmail account.
“The fact of the matter is,” said Linda, “I’m not so concerned about the gmail account. What worried me was the google+ group. She’s putting out all this information. How does she know if it’s safe? Now it’s become a trust issue between us.
“Rene lied to us and has been lying more and more,” Linda continued. “Every time something like this happens it puts her father and me into a tail spin; we’re disappointed and angry with her. I see it as such a pattern and I’m really worried about it.”
“It was something that I shouldn’t have done at all,” Rene admits. “That got me a lot of punishment which I think I completely deserve. I totally lowered the trust level and lowered the respect and it also brought up a lot of new boundaries.”
Rene would have to work hard to rebuild trust with her parents before she would get access to social media again.
The fact of the matter is that social media is very much part of our reality and there are multiple entry points for teens, from Facebook, to Twitter, to Instagram, to Vine, to Tumblr, to Google+. Trying to block kids from social media can often result in kids lying about their access to sites. That essentially leaves them to their own devices for dealing with the medium.
Eventually families need to address issues of technology and social media. How to manage the many uses as well as abuses available is a challenge faced by parent and child alike.
Technology and teens is a complicated, multi-faceted issue. For Linda and for most parents, your child’s safety is paramount. Is she giving out too much information? Who is she connecting to? What about cyber bullying? And what about inappropriate photos?
We’ve all heard horror stories of kids bullying kids on line to the point that some become so distraught by the bullying that they commit suicide. And there are the “selfies”, pictures that kids take of themselves that they might later regret posting.
Most teens have a shallow understanding of managing an online presence so they need some guidance. However, letting kids have control of their online presence can be an important lesson about personal accountability. Bad behavior and inappropriate photos have their consequences even in cyberspace.
To help your teen navigate these new winds of change, create a contract together that is guided by your family values. A contract makes the boundaries and expectations clear.
Here are three guidelines that can help tweens manage their reputation on line and can help your child make responsible choices on the web.
- Don’t write anything that you wouldn’t want your parents or any parents to see. Period! Once that posting is up, it doesn’t disappear.
- To avoid posting something in the heat of the moment that you will later regret, take time out with a “vent pal.” Vent your concerns to your parent. Lots of kids turn to their pets. Stroking a dog or cat has a calming effect and gives you time to gather yourself before deciding on an action. Others have a favorite doll or object that they can let things out with. Writing it first in a diary or journal before writing it on line is also a good practice.
- Don’t “friend” people you don’t know. Having 800 “friends” who are not your friends is not an achievement. All it achieves is giving strangers access to your personal information.
Parents need to set up boundaries around social media. Here are three to consider:
1 Set a time limit on social media. Social media can become a great distraction from learning the social skills kids need to effectively connect with others in face to face encounters. Don’t allow texting at the table or when studying. It’s also a good idea to have kids turn their phone in at the end of the day.
Know your child’s password to their accounts. Use it respectfully, not just for spying on your child. If you respect them, they are more likely to act in a respectful way. Even though your intent is to protect them, eventually they will have to fend for themselves without your protection.
Have regular conversations about what they are seeing on the web, from what interests them to what they find disturbing. An on-going open conversation is the best safety net for your child. You don’t want them to be afraid to tell you the truth.