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Ask Laura: A mom wonders how to help 6th grader navigate Fortnite, other social media; 9th graders give sage advice

Don't get lost in it. Put the phone away. And be cautious. That's some of the advice ninth graders shared with their younger classmates.

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Laura Tierney
, The Social Institute
Editor's note: In this monthly series, social media expert and Durham mom Laura Tierney, founder of The Social Institute, answers your questions about social media and kids. If you have a question for Laura, email her at contact@thesocialinst.com.
My daughter, who started sixth grade this year, is group texting a lot more and just started playing Fortnite with her friends online. What advice can I give her as she begins using social media to socialize?

First of all, high five for thinking ahead and proactively equipping your daughter on social media. Many parents feel they can wait until a child gets their own Instagram or Snapchat account before they begin huddling, but the two-way conversations should take place well before then.

Middle school students tell us the people they want to learn about positive social media use the most from is high school students. And so, for advice, I’m going to turn to ninth graders I worked with last year at our partner school Ravenscroft in Raleigh.

As part of our ongoing social media curriculum, each student wrote a letter to a sixth grader with guidance about navigating social media positively. Their insight and suggestions will surprise you; and your daughter may be more likely to take it to heart knowing it came from older teenagers, not her parent.

Social media tips: What ninth graders want sixth graders to know

Don't get lost in it

Dear Sixth Grader,
Our world is different from the world of our parents. Technology has drastically changed the way we see it, and the way we see ourselves in it. We can compare ourselves and expose ourselves and even create a new self. But, we have to be careful not to get lost in it. Be careful with how you present yourself online, if you feel the need to be present at all. Don't spend all your time connected. Spend time with friends IRL. Call them, don't text. Take photos. Take them to make memories, not to show the world what you've been doing. Do something for yourself. Do something in private. Remember to unplug your brain from the grid every once and a while, and to keep the world in perspective.
From, A Ninth Grader

Sometimes it's overwhelming

Dear Sixth Grader,
There are a lot of pros and cons about social media. I just got insta at the beginning of 2017 and snap at the beginning of the school year. So far I have liked using these apps but sometimes they are overwhelming. It is really important to make sure to check what you post to make sure that it is okay for everyone and won't hurt someone. Another thing that is really important is DO NOT go on your phone if you are at someone's birthday dinner, because it is important to talk with people face to face.
From, A Ninth Grader

Put it away

Dear Sixth Grader,
I'm a ninth grader in high school, and I want to tell you about being on your phone. Remember it's okay to be on your phone at times. But, there are times where you have to put them away. For example, in class put away your phone and learn. Learning is important, and will affect the rest of your life. Also, put away your phone when your friends are around. Have a good balance between being on your phone, and living real life.
From, A Ninth Grader

Be cautious

Dear Sixth Grader,
Have fun exploring the internet, but at the same time be cautious about what you decide to put out into the world, simply because it is permanent.
From, A Ninth Grader

It can boost insecurity

Dear Sixth Grader,
Middle school, especially, is a time where everyone is insecure, even though nobody wants to show it. Sometimes, social media can play a role in boosting that insecurity. You’ll compare how many instagram followers or streaks you have with others, even though they’re just numbers. In this time of change, stay true to yourself and don’t try to base all your actions online and off on who you think you admire.
From, A Ninth Grader
Laura Tierney is founder and president of The Social Institute, a Durham-based company that teaches students nationwide positive ways to handle one of the biggest drivers of their social development: social media.


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