Teens – Navigating the rocky waters of social media

Teens and social media is a ‘hot potato’ topic (as we say in French).

The fact is: as much as I love the idea of a totally unplugged childhood, we will not be able to avoid social media forever.  We ourselves use social media, and for good reason — it is a simple way to organise our lives, stay in touch with friends and find out what is going on in the world. All good things of course. But then there is the inevitable dark side of social media: bullying, trolling, recruiting, grooming, and the negative effects on confidence and self esteem. How do we try and educate our children on how to use social media in a way that gives them the right tools and knowledge to protect themselves from making themselves vulnerable to some of the crazier sides of social media?

My daughter is 12 and soon going to be 13, the age in France where it becomes legal to use most social medias and have an email account. Up to now I have been using the law to my advantage and so she has not had access to social media, but it is a matter of months not years. I am going to let her use social media, as it is part of her reality and the world she lives in. So it makes sense to me to try and teach her to use social media as responsibly as possible.

I think one of the main things I have tried to impress on my daughter is the fact that social media cannot be seen as an extension of a conversation that is happening in the same room. It is not a virtual living room where exchanges happen in a contained environment and jokes, opinions and emotions stay within that space. We might fight at home, but the fights stays within our 4 walls.

A very good friend of mine once said to me “write it, don’t send it”. It is some of the best advice I ever had. It is so easy to, in an emotional moment, start writing responses or attacks and publishing with a click of a button. But it is really, really important to write something, step away from the phone or computer, breathe and delete it.

The same goes for funny and silly posts. Whatever you put on social media might seem funny in the moment, but that post will forever form a digital footprint that you can be confronted with 10 years later. This is really hard to explain to a 12/13 year old who does not yet understand the concept of what her future holds. Again my explanations rests on the idea of context. What you do with your friends in private, even if you think it is super funny, is not something you want strangers to see. Social media, no matter your privacy settings or friend groups, is still the equivalent to strangers looking into your life and whatever you post, it might never go away. That does not mean that kids should not be having fun and expressing themselves on social media — I would love for them to just think for one beat before they press the “publish” button.

My cousin told her kids to invite me as a friend to their social media. She knew that they did not want her following them and wanted to give them the privacy they craved as teenage girls do and should. But I thought it was clever that she asked me to follow them and alert her if anything weird was going on. I live in a different country and do not know their friends so a little bit of their privacy is guaranteed.

If anyone has any thoughts or suggestions do share. It is such a vast subject and can be quite polarising. I am really interested on how people approach it all over the world.

I am still approaching it maybe with a certain degree of naivety as my children are not yet old enough to really experience what living a truly digital age means.


The above photo is a lovely one of Esther’s daughter Ava and Coco having a very unplugged moment together!


Comments (4)

July 19, 2018

I think it depends on the child. I am 40 and cannot be on social media. I agree there are lovely aspects, sharing cherished moments with friends and smiling at funny posts etc. but for me, I am very sensitive (I wish I wasn’t.) and seeing things that I miss out on, or groups of friends makes me think , oh I don’t have a big group of friends like that I must be boring. Or, negative thoughts about myself. If your child isn’t like me then that’s great! But a sensitive child I fear would have the same insecure reaction I do. I wish I didn’t. But often social media makes me feel badly about myself. I see clearly this is my issue, but just as an alcoholic I might not want to sit in a pub every day, I don’t want to be on instagram every day!!!!! Best of luck you’re a wonderful thoughtful mother and I’m sure your girls will be fine ♥️

July 19, 2018

I dread the day my children will face social media – I guess, because I as a teacher in junior high have seen all the damage and problems social media causes first hand. I think as a parent it’s very important that we never stop talking about correct behavior on social media, what to be careful of and. That kids never need to be afraid to tell an adult what’s going on if they see something upsetting.

July 19, 2018

These are such difficult waters to navigate. I am not a social media user and when my oldest started using it on a limited basis, it was a real eye opener – for instance, I also asked relatives to follow him, but subsequently discovered there is a whole background (private) chat aspect to what I had previously thought to be a site for posting (and commenting on) photos. Unless they had access to his actual account, it was impossible to determine who he was messaging and the content of their conversations. It has basically become a part-time job trying to stay abreast of technology (and limit time spent on it when so many school assignments now require it). Definitely an ongoing issue.

September 9, 2018

We got our oldest son a cell phone when he was about 12/13 and had to take it away and wait another 1–2 years until we could try it again. He spent all his time on it playing games, and was dishonest about it constantly. He’d sneak it when he wasn’t supposed to, and use it in his room, which was not allowed. Now that he has it back and is 15, he has Instagram and is able to control himself more. He literally found it impossible to practice self-control when he was younger.

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