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Social Media Dad: Digital discipline

Posted April 8, 2014

Brian Foreman, social media educator,

"We raised you better than this."

"My daughter does stupid things and I want to share them with her Facebook friends."

"I am disappointed to see this article posted on your page."

Public shaming or calling others out on social media is nothing new. You may applaud it. You may think that it is a terrible idea. Regardless of your perspective, it does raise questions about the methods of interaction with our children. The three real examples from above evoke different images and reactions. You may consider them going too far, or you may not.

What I do know about teenagers is that while many like to stand out in a crowd, they are all still very self conscious about how they are perceived. Parents embarrassing their teenagers is nothing new, even if that was often an unintentional effort on our part. When deciding to take actions that range from corrective to shaming online, there are probably some things we, the adults, should consider.

1. What is the best way to handle this issue? Is this a public or private matter?

Obviously, once your teenager posts something online, they have made it a public matter. Keep in mind though, that your response is a public one also. Do you want curious eyes prying to see how you will respond, which very well may escalate the matter?

For example, a dad shared this story with me. He disciplined his son, at his home, in front of the son's friends. No big deal, right? For the teenage son, it was. He took to Facebook and ripped his dad. The friends joined in the comments. Eventually, his ex-wife joined the fray to criticize and bully the dad. He refused to rise to the debate, only posting that he wished his son had made a better choice at home and now on Facebook. Ultimately, he had to ride it out, as well as the residual damage his reputation was dealt. Subsequent conversations between father and son were handled privately and at home. Did he handle it the right way?

2. What are the long term consequences of disciplining the teenager in a public forum?

Depending on the nature of the response, and the nature of your teenager, a snarky quip may be the best way to get your point across. A very direct comment like the third example above that expresses disappointment about an article that was posted may get your point across in a simple and quick fashion. It is unlikely that the long term effects would be very dramatic.

On the flip side, imagine that you are the teenager in the second example and you see your parent sharing "stupid things" she thinks you do. In some instances, these posts become widely viewed and shared, drawing unwanted attention on your teenager. Sure teenagers post many things as a way to get attention, but I have met very few teenagers who want to be singled out and embarrassed as the butt of the joke. When the parent does it, the damage could be significant to their relationship. Conversely it could also generate the intended response and get the teenager's attention that mom and dad are serious.

A parent has to make that choice, and circumstances vary widely, but hopefully we are asking ourselves this question before responding publicly.

3. What example am I setting for how to engage difficult topics or disciplinary moments?

The choice to respond online versus offline sets an example. As a writer, I love the written medium as a way to have thoughtful discussions. It gives me time to think, reflect and craft my response. My wife, however, does not appreciate in-depth conversations through email or text messaging. She wants to talk face to face.

Discussing difficult topics or addressing things we see online with our kids is not something we do by text. We might alert them to a coming conversation through digital means, but the conversation, disciplinary or not, is going to happen in real life.

We hope the example we are settings is that meaningful and thoughtful discussion is both important, respectful and an ideal way to handle conflict. It gives us the chance to hear and be heard. That is the example we want to set, and to date it has worked for us.

How do you address these types of issues with your family? I would love to hear and share your ideas!

Brian Foreman, a Raleigh dad of two, is a social media educator and author of "How to be Social Media Parents." Find him here monthly on Go Ask Mom.


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  • Killian Apr 10, 2014

    It is NEVER appropriate to bring family issues into the public light. One of my kids started to do it ONCE, and I asked him in comments on his FB post if he was sure he wanted to bring this onto FB. He deleted it immediately and we handled/settled it in house.

    If you need the Internet to "help" discipline your kid, then your parenting is what needs some serious help.

  • carrboroyouth Apr 9, 2014

    Arguing over the internet is pointless and makes you look pretty terrible if you are trying to "teach" or "discipline" your kid on their walls. It's disrespectful and immature.

  • RGMTRocks Apr 9, 2014

    ClaytonTarheel - I SO agree! I also have a very driven HS daughter. She keeps a FB account but doesn't really post there at all unless it's a really positive lfe event that she wants to share about. She reads things she has chosen to get notifications about - and that's about it. Her Tweets are funny and positive or slightly satirical and they are few. I've ALWAYS taught and reminded her that whatever you put on the net is there to see and you can't take it back once seen. So, if you wouldn't want to see it on the 6 o'clock news, don't put it on the net. She has told me several times she's always mindful that colleges, future employers and MAMA can see what she posts and at any time she feels like it might be 'good' to vent or be snarky online, that keeps her from doing so. So I'm lucky that my attention to her and teaching have paid off. If there WERE an issue, I would NOT deal with it publicly on a media site. 2 wrongs.....bad example

  • itsnotmeiswear Apr 9, 2014

    Disciplining your child via social media is immature. The relationship with your child should be face to face. It is also reinforcing the idea to your children that social media is a proper place to vent frustration about anyone or anything. Colleges are starting to do a better job of educating students about the career pitfalls from posting less than flattering impressions of your personality. High schools and middle schools need to get serious about the problem particularly as it relates to cyber bullying. I have two daughters. One is in college, and she has almost stopped posting online because of the warnings from career counselors. My youngest daughter is a driven high school student, and she thinks social media is a colossal waste of time that she can’t afford. I think the impersonal nature of social media and texting is the root cause of the disrespectful attitudes many teenagers display towards their parents and others. We should not be contributing to the problem.