Teenagers and social media: raising responsible, tech-savvy people
Generation Z is a demographic group that comes after Millennials. One of the defining characteristics of this group is that youngsters from Gen Z have grown up with mobile communications. Among this generation, the most common form of communication is texting or social media interaction. This week I’m talking about teenagers and social media.
I share an abode with two Generation Zers. My kids have had smartphones for a while. While actually talking on the phone is not a big thing for them, their devices are essential communication tools. Social media is a huge part of why they have cellphones. My son considers Instagram crucial for him to relate to his friends. My daughter can’t do without her music streaming app.
Rules and guidelines
As a family, we’ve put in place rules and best practice guidelines for social media – these cover what they can do, what are grey areas and what is absolutely off limits. I don’t fool myself that, like with many things teenagers do, I know everything that’s going on when their eyes are glued to those screens.
But trust has to begin somewhere so I have faith that my kids understand the responsibility that goes with having a cellphone. In our home having a cellphone is a privilege, not a right. Having it 24/7 is earned and we still reserve the right to access passwords and their phones if we think it necessary. Setting clear parameters around cellphone-usage has served us well. Of course, teenagers will attempt to push the boundaries. My aim is to guide and support. Be there if they need advice. Assist if I can. Our open-door policy has been a blessing in that we can freely discuss what our kids experience online. And that’s a good foundation, to begin with.
Social media is an important part of our lives and responsible parents will make the time to discuss it with their kids.
Parents need to know how to discuss this with their children. They also need to know what kinds of questions to ask:
- What do you like about social media? This is a far more constructive question than why do you like social media?
- Which are your favourite platforms? (The type of platform your child favours says a lot about their personality and their activity)
- What do you think I should know about social media? Understanding social media through your children’s eyes is a great way to bridge the generational divide. It will give you more accurate insight into the attraction of social media for youngsters.
- What are the top five social media accounts you enjoy?
- Do you know who follows you?
- How do you decide who follows you? The last two questions provide you with the perfect opportunity to get your child to think about who follows and engages with him/her on social media and to empower him/her to make informed decisions about this.
- What do you do when someone you don’t know tries to contact you via direct message?
- Why do you post something on Instagram?
- How do likes and comments affect how you feel about a post?
- What do you think is an acceptable amount of time per day to spend online?
- Have you ever felt uncomfortable with something online?
- What would you do if you saw someone being bullied on your timeline?
Being open about social media has always been a rule in our home. As a parent, it’s not always easy to understand the global landscape that is constantly in flux. But every parent should be able to openly discuss social media with their kids. As long as we provide them with smart devices, I believe it’s our responsibility to also provide them with the advice and tools to use them respectfully. Have the conversations with your kids. Answer their questions, explain your position and negotiate fair usage. It’s the first step to creating safe spaces around online activity.
Here are the basics we have impressed on our kids:
- Respect other members of the social media community.
- Don’t spam people or post nudity.
- Self-injury is not good. Don’t glorify it.
- Abide by the law.
- Share only photos and videos that you’ve taken or have the right to share.
- Always ask yourself why you are posting something and if it is worth posting. In other words, be thoughtful when posting.
Tools for control
One of the first things we discussed with our children was whether their accounts would be public or private. It’s important every social media user understands that they themselves can control who sees and engages with what they post online. Make this choice with your child – it shows your interest. And a negotiated choice is always a better option than a parent’s decree.
Public vs private
Understand the difference between a private and public account and make sure your child understands it too. Going private does not necessarily mean curtailing activity. What it does mean is your child is empowered to choose.
If an account is private, it means the user can approve the people who follow and interact with them. Private accounts mean your child’s activity cannot be seen by anyone they have not approved.
Blocking accounts is a handy tool on many social media platforms. This allows users to block others from seeing or commenting on their posts. When you block an account, that person is not notified. They can also be unblocked at any time the user feels it is appropriate.
Most platforms also allow users to choose who can post comments to their timelines. This is a great feature to remember.
Finally, discuss time management. There are many tools to help you understand and take control of the time spent on social media. It’s important to work with your child to decide on what the right balance is.
Social media is an integral part of life as we know it. That is not going to change. As adults negotiate their way around this form of engagement, they must be aware of how their children are doing the same. For Generation Z, they probably know no other form of communication. Cellphones have always been around in their time. It’s a no-brainer that this will be their preferred tool for communication.
Railing against the trend is an exercise in futility, in my opinion. Part of raising responsible adults means acknowledging the tech onslaught we’re faced with, accepting it, and talking often and openly about the responsibility that comes with it.
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