Social Media. For me personally, and I’m guessing many others, I have a love/hate relationship with it.
I love being able to keep up with friends and family all over the world and I love the wealth of information I gain from Facebook groups and by following topics of interest on Instagram. I love connecting with my kids on Snapchat and seeing snipets of their days.
I hate how it takes “keeping up with the Joneses” to an entirely new level and how we only see the highlight reels of everyone’s lives (for the most part). I hate how exclusion is now very much in our faces and how we thrive off of likes and comments on posts.
Regardless of how we feel, here we are. It’s 2017 and parenting through the age of social media is tough and it sometimes feels as though it’s impossible to keep up. Here are the basics as of September 2017; I’m sure I will need to update this again soon.
Social Media Accounts
The big two- Instagram and Snapchat
If you have a tween or teen, you need to have these two accounts. There are various opinions regarding how much you should get involved in your child’s social media life (more on that to come) but I feel strongly that at the very least you need to have these apps so you know how they work.
Instagram– an app/site where you can post pictures. This, like many apps and websites, has evolved and will continue to evolve both in the features of the site AND how the kids use it. Today, I will be focusing on how 13-16 year olds tend to use these sites.
It is not uncommon for middle schoolers and high schoolers to have THOUSANDS of followers. Where kids used to post pics all the time, that has changed (they use snapchat for that now) and Insta is now more like a digital photo album- only the best, usually heavily filtered and edited, pictures get posted. The caption is very important and usually very clever (although most kids find these online so they aren’t even their own). When a picture is posted, the amount of likes and comments are watched like a hawk and if they aren’t getting the number of likes they expect, the picture may come down. It is very common for friends to comment multiple times to show their love. “Tagging” friends in pictures can be a very big deal. Friends expect tags even if they’re not in the picture and the position of the tag is also very important (many kids layer tags upon tags so you only see the top ones, hence being able to give many friends the tag but only the best friends’ names will show). I’m guessing at this moment you’re thinking this sounds stupid and complicated AND IT IS but this is a very, very big deal in a middle schooler’s life so if you want to stay in touch with what your child’s going through, you must keep up. Being left out of a picture by not getting a tag is equivalent to getting snubbed- it’s subtle but it sends a big message. Girls will then ask for a tag and the girl who left the tag off now has the power. (If you haven’t read Queen Bees and Wannabes you absolutely must). She can either be nice and say she forgot and add the tag or further complicate the situation and ignore the asker completely (read more about girls and social media here)
To further complicate your life, many kids also have a “Finsta”, which stands for “Fake Insta”. This is a more “fun” page where they will post funny, silly, random pictures to be viewed by only a select group of friends. These finstas have also been know to be used for bullying since most parents don’t know anything about them.
Snapchat– a site where you can share quick pics that disappear within 24 hours. There is no “wall” or even a page like FB or Insta that you can go to to see your child’s account. The closest thing to that is on the main page where you can see peoples’ “stories”.
I’ll do a quick breakdown to explain how it’s used—
- I take a picture. I can send it to an individual person or post on my story for all my friends to see (or both).
- If I send you a picture everyday and you send me one back everyday, after 3 days we will have a “streak”. The more we communicate with each other, the longer the streak, thus highlighting our level of friendship. As you can see, streaks are very important (no one wants to lose a streak!).
- Important things that I want everyone to see (pics or videos from a party, fun outing or plans with friends), I post on your story, much like I’d post on FB or Insta, except these will disappear after 24 hours.
- Filters are fun.
- If I open a picture, I am supposed to send one back right way, otherwise I “boxed” that person (this is a key difference between how older people and younger people use Snapchat- my college aged kid couldn’t care less about “boxing” but it’s important to my 14 year old). Kids will snap back pictures of the ground or other things that don’t even show anything just to “snapback”. This is strange to me but seems to make sense to middle schoolers.
An important note about Snapchat- kids these days are not texting much anymore; instead, they use Snapchat to message each other. It’s just like texting except it disappears, just like the pictures.
New, Very Dangerous Social Media Accounts
Sarahah– It seems like the awful, anonymous apps just won’t go away. When my oldest was younger, it was askfm. Now it’s Sarahah. The appeal is strong to middle schoolers because it runs on the premise that you can get feedback anonymously. I’m sure I don’t need to explain to you how dangerous this can be and how quickly it turns mean and encourages online bullying. The day I read about it and shared an article on FB warning other parents, I saw a story on my daughter’s snapchat that said, “swipe up” with her Sarahah account info. Aaaahhhhh! I would not have seen this on her phone because it’s not an app but a site and if I hadn’t been on snapchat that day, I would have never known. The struggle is real. (More on Sarahah here)
Omegle– Just read the description and you’ll know you’ll want your child to stay far, far away but unfortunately they’re using it. Taken from their website- “Predators have been known to use Omegle, so please be careful.” Fantastic. Not too much to say about this one except to please speak to your kids about the dangers!
Other Social Media Accounts Worth Mentioning
Houseparty– A group video chat, much like Facetime or Skype except it’s with a group of people. This can be relatively harmless if your child is doing it with friends they know. The only downside is that kids can kick out others or “lock” the Houseparty which can lead to feelings of exclusion.
Musical.ly– Where kids can take video of themselves lip-syncing and dancing and share with “friends”. The premise is cute but make sure to monitor the content AND who’s has access to watch your child dance.
Facebook– not really a thing for the kids these days. My older daughter uses it to read and share articles and for the FB groups. My 14 year old has an account but zero interest
Twitter– More for older teens and adults.
Vine– Not relevant anymore since Snapchat and Instagram now have videos.
Parenting in the Digital Age
So now that I’ve given you the 411, what should you do? How do we parent in this new, digital age?
I’ve come up with a few ideas that help but I am also the first to say that this could be a full time job and if you have a child who’s into all this, as most are, they will most likely find a way around many of your rules. I’m always looking for more help in this area so if you have any tips that work, please share in the comments section below.
- Stay informed and aware. Know the apps your child is using. Use them yourself so you understand how they work. Personally, I believe you should be “friends” and “follow” your child on any site their using. In our house, this is rule- if you’re on a site, I must be able to access it. ***Disclaimer- I have caught my daughter “blocking” me and hiding posts. She is not perfect and does not follow my rules 100% of the time. However, when she is caught, there are consequences and learning opportunities.
2. Have parental controls set so your child cannot download any app without your approval. This will allow you to check out new apps before your child uses them. ***Disclaimer- this doesn’t work on websites.
3. Have rules in place regarding cell phones (see this post for a great contract)
4. Have rules in place regarding social media. Listed below is a contract to get you started. Modify as needed but don’t be so quick to remove the parts regarding pornography. I know this is a super uncomfortable topic but it is soooooo important to have these discussions with ANY CHILD over the age of 10 (some would say even younger) that has access to the internet (see this post for tips about talking to your kids about online porn)
Social Media Contract
1. I agree to keep my settings at “private” at all times.
2. I agree not to post any pictures of body parts. I will only post pictures of myself or friends if they include our faces. I understand this is not because there is anything wrong or shameful with any parts of my body, but that it is not healthy to sexualize myself to strangers as a young person.
3. I agree not to post sexualized images. This includes kissing of any kind, grabbing body parts or making sexual gestures of any kind. There is nothing wrong with being silly, but the Internet is not a safe place for young kids to be silly in a sexual way.
4. I agree to be respectful of myself and others in the words and images I use. This includes agreeing not to use social media to mock, tease, embarrass, gossip or reveal secrets.
5. I agree for safety not to reveal the specific place I am when I am there. For example, I will not post a picture saying “I am at the pool with a friend and then we are walking home.”
6. I agree to immediately tell an adult family member if I ever receive any threatening or sexual messages or images on any social channel.
7. I agree not to view pornography. I understand that sex is a wonderful and healthy part of an adult life, but that pornography is a different thing than sex, and not healthy for a young person. I understand that I cannot control the images I see once I start looking at a pornography page or video, and those images will never leave my brain, and that can be harmful to my emotional health. I agree that if I accidentally stumble across pornography or a friend shows it to me, I will stop watching.
8. I agree to acknowledge that everything I put online is permanently available, even if it can be immediately deleted or hidden. I understand that people who know technology well can access images and words that have been deleted even if the app tells you otherwise. I understand that even private messages can be copied and pasted somewhere else. I understand that when I am grown and an adult, someone can look my name up and find every single thing I’ve ever put online. This includes bosses, boyfriends, girlfriends, future family and friends, neighbors and co-workers.
9. I agree that when I am having family time, I will put away my devices, including my phone. This goes for the adults as well.
10. I agree that occasionally I will have Internet blackouts. This means that when I am showing signs of needing a tech break—such as lack of reading or creative activities, irritability, constantly pulling out my phone, unable to concentrate and not wanting to participate in family activities or time—my parents might ask that I stay off the Internet and my phone for a day or two.
11. I agree to be done with all tech including phone by 10pm nightly unless I have asked for and received an exception.
12. If I do not follow these agreements, I understand that I will lose my social media privileges for as long as my parents feel it is necessary. I understand that my parents love me more than anything in the world and create these boundaries out of that love.