Social Media: To Follow or Not to Follow?
One of the social media hot topics between parents and their children is a child’s so called right to privacy on social media. I believe that it goes without saying that parents should follow their children on social media all they until they leave home. When I propose this to parents, most respond with a response referring to the students privacy.
Parents are walking a fine line in this social media world. There are still many unknowns and loose ends that don’t have black and white responses. But when it comes to monitoring your child’s social media channels I have two firmly held beliefs.
The first is that you probably already monitor your child’s “in real life” relationships. You may ask probing questions and vet their friends as much as you can before letting them ride in the car with them or spend the night at their house. You may even require to meet their friend’s parents before allowing certain levels of interaction. Why should social media be any different?
Second, you would not let your student go to certain places and converse with certain people without your knowledge or presence. Don’t forget that, when your kids post things on social media, they are sharing part of their life, and in a real sense part of our lives, with total strangers and so you following shouldn’t be that big of a deal.
I am also a dad and I know those conversations can go negative quickly, especially if you have waited too long to get more involved. Kids, especially teens, are getting a taste for freedom and sometimes try to take that freedom too far. They think parents just want to spy on them, but that is not the case. Here are five positive reasons for you to be involved in your child’s social media.
- Following our kids allows us to see into their lives and makes for great conversations at the end of the day, around the super table, when we see a fun shot from a moment in their life and discuss that with them. It helps you know more about their friends, peers and even the ones who are not friends (whether they realize it or not). In our day, these kids would be sitting around your living room and cleaning out your fridge. Now they are just connecting online and you may not have the natural opportunities to get to know the “players” if you don’t follow along.
- Following our kids on social media helps us process with them when their friends post about a life struggle they are working through such as an unexplained death or divorce. Many times the conversations that are sparked not only help my kids as they work through future similar events but my kids take the things we have discussed and help their hurting friends process as well.
- Following your kids on social media and insisting they follow you keeps us all accountable. This is a key and should be number one in this list. No one needs to have secret online lives that total strangers can see but families cannot. When our students see us as transparent it is easier for them to be transparent.
- Following your kids on social media helps you speak into possible mistakes. It stands to reason that something a child would post at 14 years of age — even if posted innocently — may be a great source of regret for them at age 30. The news is constantly reminding us of how our 24/7 media lives can come back to haunt us many years from now.
- Following your kids on social media will allow you to give caution where they are being too transparent, often times, with total strangers. Our innocent children are wielding a very powerful tool to connect with others. They need to understand how to handle that power in safe and healthy ways.
It goes without saying that this requires a certain level of trust between you and your student. For example, you may consider allowing them to set the level of engagement. For years my kids had a “no reply” policy. To have social media they had to allow me to follow but their “give” was that I could not comment on their posts. The few times I did drew harsh words, wagging fingers, hand on hip, stern reminders of the respect we promised to each other. They have since lifted the ban but I still respect them and write very little. Usually just how much I love them or how proud I am of them.
Another word of advice is don’t panic, no matter what they post. You will surely see things that will elicit a reaction. But be careful how you address your concerns. When kids hear us speaking into their lives and see a genuine love for them and their betterment, they listen. When our kids hear us protecting ourselves or our reputation by demanding they remove or stop something, or demand they take our advice they just get a new account, one you will never know exists.
For better or worse, social media has done more to complicate the parent/teen relationship more than help it. But the discerning and proactive parent can leverage the technology for good and mentor their child into safely embracing their new freedoms a little at a time.