As parents, it’s important to keep an open, honest and nonjudgmental dialogue about important aspects of your teen’s life — and that should include social media.
But Laura Markley, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and pediatrician in Akron Children’s Lois and John Orr Family Behavioral Health Center, reminds parents to keep the conversation light and positive, instead of focusing on the controversy surrounding social media use.
“If you discuss social media in a neutral manner and express shared interests in content, you’ll have a better chance of sparking a conversation that can help you understand what your teen is doing, seeing and sharing on social media,” she said.
While positively conversing, you also can use this dialogue as an opportunity to monitor your kids’ participation and make sure they are safely using social platforms. Dr. Markley 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 with 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 it presents information to your child. Does it filter inappropriate content? Are there age restrictions? Does it use location services or offer privacy settings?
- 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 nothing done online is temporary and what they post should never contain inappropriate content (including nude or sexually explicit photos).
“Encourage teens to tell you if they’re being pressured online to do something that makes them uncomfortable,” said Dr. Markley. “Kids might be reluctant to address concerns with you for fear of losing social media privileges. Remind your children that your focus is their long-term protection and not limiting their social media access.”
- 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 assess 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 are potential consequences of an account that’s public? Do you think that comment could negatively impact you? What are the ramifications of that post? Would you feel comfortable if that picture was shown at school or a family get-together? When kids are led to arrive at conclusions on their own, they are more apt to act.
“Our job as parents is to keep our kids safe,” said Dr. Markley. “The adolescent brain is not fully developed, so teens don’t often consider potential consequences of their actions ‘in the moment.’ Exercising and encouraging healthy online behaviors will help ingrain good practices, so that your children are less vulnerable online now and as they grow.”
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.