Every day parents give teenagers access to something that could endanger them. They do this willingly and often without full knowledge of how their teenager is going to use it.
The teenager could take unnecessary risks that likely will not cause any harm, but it might. Using it could be a huge waste of time and money, causing bad grades or leading to bad choices. Sadly, when it does, mom and dad may never know unless the worst case scenario comes true.
But this blog is about social media, not teen driving. For whatever reason, we fear social media far more as parents, perhaps because we were once teen drivers, but never teen social media users. Ah, the fear of the unknown.
In a reader email, a youth minister talking about social media with her teenagers shared this comment. There are "so many social media apps I hadn't heard of and the awareness that there will always be the desire for teens to have space where adults are not.“
That sounds a lot like me when I first got my driver’s license. So many places to go where my parents would not be around.
That email came rushing back to me at a middle school open house, where my daughter will be in sixth grade this fall. In the presentation to parents, one slide said, “Middle school is when students start putting their parents in the dark.”
Whether it be driving, social media or grades, teenagers will keep you in the dark if that is your expectation, even if it is unintentional on their part. The solution is to adjust your expectations and communicate to them clearly.
When children are small, they are far more dependent upon parents. As they age, the desire for independence grows. Many of us remember a head strong three-year-old insisting, “I do it.”
At each stage of life, the desire for independence increases, and that is a good thing unless you want your 40-year-old son living in your basement. Children and teenagers naturally want independence and as parents we should want that for them in the adequate amounts.
Social media is a place that gives more independence, but not all independence is equal, nor should it be. Independence does not mean that parents are not paying attention, in fact, it should be a conscious choice by the parent to determine how much freedom to give. Be thoughtful about this decision by asking yourself a few questions.
1. What is an appropriate amount of independence for my child at this age?
2. How much and with what type of independence can I be comfortable?
3. How will I still hold my child accountable online and off?
These aren’t exhaustive questions, but they are meant to get you thinking with intention about your expectations so that you can comfortably grant appropriate independence as opposed to “being kept in the dark.”
NOTE: There are new apps and questions about social media being addressed regularly at Brian’s website. If you need to know more about YikYak or Whisper, you can find the information there.
Brian Foreman, a Raleigh dad of two, is a social media educator. Go to his website for more information about his book "How to be Social Media Parents." Find him here monthly on Go Ask Mom.