Social Media: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly of teen online behavior.
I never thought I’d get to the point of saying “I love the internet and social media,” since I got into it so late. But I’ve realized the magnitude of all that can be accomplished through social media and its’ various “Apps.” Families are able to stay in contact across continents. Grandparents get to see pictures of their grandkids and watch them grow virtually. We all love the videos of little kids on YouTube in various poses and performances. They warm our hearts and make us laugh. I recently connected with my high school friends on WhatsApp and we are having a blast sharing jokes and “laughing” just like the old times. We also have a wealth of knowledge, right at our finger tips. My family always makes fun of me because if you get into any argument with me, I quickly pull out my phone and clarify the facts. Now that is power. Young adults use sites like “LinkedIn” to market themselves and secure jobs and grow their businesses.
Unfortunately, there is “the bad” that comes with social media and ease of communication. I recently watched the movie, “ Identity Thief” and as much as I laughed at the humor in it, the seriousness of the movie was not lost on me. People who have had their identities stolen have been left with debt they did not create, and inability to obtain credit. We regularly hear about how different major retailers have had their systems hacked into, and people’s personal information stolen.
Most people are unaware of medical identity theft. Can you imagine going to a hospital and being told you have an illness you know for sure you don’t have? Or potentially being transfused with the wrong blood type in an emergency? It can happen because someone else has compromised your identity and has substituted their information for yours. Unfortunately, you can get stuck with hospital bills you did not generate. It is always harder, proving you are innocent than it ever was for the “thief” to mess up your life.
And then comes “the Ugly!” The ugliness of social media is more common in the “teen world.” We have learned about “sexting” and cyberbullying of teens. There are anonymous websites specifically set up to bully and demean other teens. It was recently on the news that people were hacking into other people’s Snapchat accounts and were threatening to release personal information on the internet. In recent times several actors have had their private accounts broken into and their personal pictures plastered all over the internet. These acts are committed by bullies who hide behind the anonymity of the internet. This is really cruel, ugly and unnecessary.
So what’s a parent to do? Some parents almost have a fear of the internet. It sounds like a completely different world, one we don’t understand. The first suggestion I have is:
1. Educate yourself about “the good” of social media.
Whether we like it or not, the internet is here to stay. Your children and grandchildren can be your best teachers. I saw a documentary on TV where seniors in nursing homes were being taught to navigate the internet and Facebook, and they were so happy because they could stay in touch with family and old friends. Once you get over the fear, it is not that difficult and is really enjoyable to reconnect with family and friends.
2. Use social media to connect with your teen.
I read an article on Guideposts about a mom felt she was losing her daughter to the big bad world of social media. After praying about it, she started communicating with her teen through texting and social media. Her daughter was excited and started sharing daily events with her mom and communication between the two of them improved. If we want to communicate effectively with our teens, we have to meet them where they are, and speak to them in their language. My daughter is now in college and does not like to talk on the phone. She loves to “Snapchat.” So I got the “Snapchat App.” Even though we don’t talk as often as I wish we could, we are in constant communication through snapchat. Join the 21st Century and learn other ways to connect with your teen.
3. Warn your teens about the dangers of the Internet.
Advise your teens never to put anything on Facebook or any social media site, that they will not want their parents or future employers to see. Even colleges turn to social media sites to help determine what type of person you are. You can literally destroy your future with a few lapses in judgment. Advise teens never to put compromising pictures of themselves on the internet. I advise parents to be friends with their teens on Facebook. You are not spying on them. There should never be anything on there that they don’t want you to see.
For younger teens, there are internet controls like “Family Cyber Alert” or anti porn apps that you can put in place to prevent access to certain websites and to monitor which sites your teens are visiting. TeenSafe founded by Ameeta Jain, is another great app for engaged parents. There are similar controls for the TV.
4. Teach teens social media courtesy.
No parent wants to believe that their child could be cyber-bullying other kids, but there are teens doing this every day. There are websites like Ask.fm and phone apps like Streetchat, where teens can anonymously gossip about and seriously hurt other teens. It again boils down to communication. Hurting people tend to hurt others. If your teen is cyberbullying others, then your teen also has problems. As parents, you need to get to the bottom of this. Pay attention to the sites your teens visit. I met a lady who said her mom didn’t want to be the one watching how her much younger brother behaved on the internet so she had been chosen as the “internet guardian” so to speak. She paid attention to what he did on the internet and was quick to correct him when he did something ungentlemanly. Pretending these sites don’t exist is naïve. Keep current with the times. If you can’t stay on top of what is happening on the internet find a trusted friend or relative your child respects and let them keep track. Hold them accountable for their time online as well as their behavior.
5. Put controls in place.
Be the parent even when it comes to social media. Teach children that family time is still important. If possible do not use your cell phones at dinner and really engage with and get to know your children. Teens should be taught how to communicate with others outside of social media. Sometimes I’m afraid we are raising a generation who won’t know the simple queues of conversation. What a look or a smile or a gentle touch means. We still have to teach teens to look at people and learn to communicate by actually talking with them and to be comfortable spending time in each other’s company without the constant beeping and loud chatter of cell phones.
When all is said and done, the internet and social media are great inventions. They are tools to help us stay in touch, to keep abreast of all that is happening in the whole wide world. Unfortunately as with everything else, these tools can be misused and abused destroying relationships and creating distance between families. Encourage your teens to use social media to their advantage rather than using it to destroy themselves, their reputations and their friends. Help them realize the power at their fingertips if social media is used appropriately. Parents, let’s join the social media conversation by educating ourselves and modeling responsible social media behavior.
The above image is credited to a related article on teens and social media. Read it here.