Let’s face it, the world is a different place than it was 20 years ago. While as parents we experienced many of the same struggles as our teenagers today, new challenges have arisen with the dawn of the “digital age”. Please understand that I am not “anti” social media, or any other form of electronic communication. Like everyone else, I use these platforms to stay in touch with friends, co-workers, and family members. However, I believe there needs to be clearly defined guidelines for using these outlets of information and communication.
Unfortunately, what I am seeing in my work with children and adolescents, is a lack of knowledge as to what is acceptable and unacceptable in terms of the use of social media and other forms of electronic communication (text, email, instant message, group chat rooms, etc.…) Because of this, I am seeing an increasing amount of issues related to cyber bullying, whether it be via social media, text, or email. We as parents must teach our children to take responsibility for their words and actions, starting by educating them on some basic guidelines for using these forms of communication. The following set of guidelines can be a helpful conversation starter between parents and teens on the appropriate use of social media and electronic communication.
Teen Guidelines for Physical Safety:
- Only accept friend requests from people you actually know.
- Make your profile private.
- Turn off the location tag on photos you post.
- Do not post your location.
- If you post pictures from an event or vacation, post them after you have left the event or returned home.
- Do not give your cell phone number out freely, and have your friends ask before giving your number to someone else.
- Tell an adult if someone you met online asks you to meet them in person, pushes you to disclose personal information, or makes you feel uncomfortable.
Teen Guidelines for Emotional Safety:
- You do not have to accept every friend request you receive. Just because it’s called a “friend” request, doesn’t mean the person is actually your friend. Friendships are developed over time, and trust is earned.
- Be careful not to overshare, not everyone has earned the right to know everything about you. Only share deeply personal feelings and thoughts with people you know you can trust to keep them confidential.
- Do not post when you are overly emotional (especially when you are angry). Social media is not your journal!!!
- Be respectful of others, and do not use social media to insult, bully, manipulate, or get even with others. Tone is very important! Your words, (yes even those that are typed), are very powerful. Once they are said they never be taken back.
- Block anyone who is disrespectful of boundaries you have set. It can be very tempting to want to know what someone is saying about you. However, this is seldom helpful. Communicate to that person that what they are doing is not ok, and that you will be blocking all communication with them until they choose to act appropriately.
- Do not “call out” someone via social media. This is hurtful, disrespectful, and does not solve anything.
- Do not engage in any “battle” over text or social media, period! Instead, try to resolve conflict face-to-face, or over the phone when appropriate.
- Do not participate in group chat bullying. If someone in the group chat is being disrespectful to you or another member of the group, ask them to stop. If they do not stop, remove yourself from the conversation.
- Post because you want to, not to get something in return. Let’s face it, we all enjoy when our posts are “liked”, but be careful not to base the value of your opinions, beliefs, pictures, or yourself on the amount of “likes” or positive responses you get on a post. Be who you are, and let your page be a form of communication and self-expression.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Remember, you have the right to ask someone to stop contacting you. If they persist, do not hesitate to inform a parent, or another trustworthy adult. In turn, if someone asks you to stop contacting them, be respectful of their request, and stop immediately, and discuss it with a trusted adult.
Although these guidelines are not inclusive, they can serve as a good starting point in the development of appropriate boundaries in our use of social media and electronic communication. Remember, we cannot assume that our children and teens will automatically know these things. We as parents must be proactive in educating them on what is appropriate and what is not, and we must enforce clear consequences when they use these outlets inappropriately. It is also our job to lead by example. Our children and teenagers are watching us, and it is unfair to ask them to do something we ourselves aren’t willing to do. I am sure that at some point, we have all made mistakes in this area. Sharing our mistakes and how we dealt with them can be an important learning opportunity for our teens. Remember, we are all learning this together.