As parents, it’s important to keep an open, honest and nonjudgmental dialogue about important aspects of our teen’s life, and, yes, that includes social media.
But Brooks Collins-Gaines, a mental health therapist in Akron Children’s Lois and John Orr Behavioral Health Center, warns parents to not only focus on the bad — and the ugly — but talk about the good, too. There are many positive aspects of social media. It’s a great way to get kids engaged and connected, find interesting articles and joke about funny memes.
“If you focus on all the restrictions and make it so controversial, kids might be more reluctant to share with you what they’re doing on these channels,” said Brooks. “Instead, talking about social media in a less punitive way opens the dialogue so you can better understand what they’re doing and talking about on them with their friends.”
While positively conversing, you can use this time to monitor your kids’ participation and make sure they’re safely using social platforms. Brooks offers 3 questions to ask your kids about their social media accounts and what to do if there’s a red flag.
- Which platforms are you active on? Ask your kids which platforms they use the most — Instagram? TikTok? Snapchat? — and what is it about those that they really like. You can ask about the pros and cons of each. Which functionality does your child like the most? Is there anything your child is concerned about or doesn’t like about the platform? Not only is discussing your child’s interests great bonding time, but it also gives you an idea as to which platforms you need to know more about. Do your research and find out how is it pushing information to your child? Does it filter inappropriate content? Does it use location services?
- What are you talking about and posting on these platforms? Ask questions about what kinds of things your kids like to post. Is the material innocent or is it making them vulnerable to teasing? Are they posting about something dangerous or asking for unhelpful feedback? Have a conversation about what’s appropriate to share on social and what’s not. Remind kids that what they post should never contain inappropriate content (including nude or sexually explicit photos). Reinforce that nothing done online is temporary, and content can be saved and later used against your child.
- Is your account private? It’s important to ask this question to make sure kids are using the platform in a safe way. Can your kids only send and receive messages from users they have added to their friends’ list, or can anyone access them? Is your child getting direct messages (DMs) from people other than their friends? Asking these pertinent questions will help you get to the bottom of potential dangers and opens the door to discuss safe habits on social media. A public account can open your child up to scrutiny from bullies, online predators or other threats.
What to do if you see a red flag
If you already have an ongoing dialogue about social media with your children, when a red flag pops up, they will be more open to talking about it with you.
Use questions to help lead your children to see the potential danger their actions can pose and how they could be potentially harmful to them. What bad things could happen if your account is public? Do you think that comment could come back to haunt you? What are the ramifications of that post? Is this someone you trust with your deepest, darkest secrets? When kids are led to figure it out on their own, they’re more apt to act.
“As parents, our job is to keep our kids safe,” said Brooks. “A teen’s brain isn’t fully developed, so they can’t think of all the consequences of their actions. It’s our job to lead them to see what could go wrong and how it could impact them long term.”
If you think your child is struggling significantly with social media, Akron Children’s Lois and John Orr Family Behavioral Health Center offers mental health services via in-person or telehealth. Call 330-543-5015 to schedule an appointment.