By Aaron Earls
Parents today grew up in a completely different culture from their children. Technology has radically reshaped the way we live.
Any child who is still living at home is among the digital natives who have no concept of life pre-internet or a time before everyone was on social media. Millennials and the next generation only know what it’s like to be surrounded by a hyper-connected world full of sharing selfies, trending on Twitter, and friends on Facebook.
According to Pew Research, 92 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds are online daily. Almost 3-in-4 (73 percent) have a smartphone themselves and 88 percent at least have access to one. With easy access to the Internet, 89 percent of teens reported using at least one social media site or app, and 71 percent said they used two or more.
But all of the experience in that world doesn’t automatically grant someone the ability to traverse it well. Take for example the rash of bomb threats to airlines tweeted out by teenagers last year, which resulted in at least one arrest.
This illustrates the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Teenagers (and many others) have expansive knowledge about social media, but often lack the wisdom to use it.
Recognizing this, here are six ways parents can help their kids survive their social media knowledge until the wisdom kicks in.
1. Start at the right age.
Every child is different, so there’s no perfect age to jump into social media. You know your children better than anyone else. You’re best equipped to decide when they’re ready to enter the world of social media. Remember, it doesn’t hurt anyone to wait, even if “everyone” is already on social media.
2. Research all the apps.
A new social media app debuts seemingly every week. It can seem daunting, but before you allow your children to start on social media, you should know the major channels like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and Vine.
On top of those, parents need to be aware of newer apps like Kik, Whisper, Yik Yak, Periscope, and YouNow. You don’t have to be proficient at them all, just knowledgable about what they are and what they do.
3. Limit the number of platforms.
While you should know about as many popular apps as possible, your children don’t need to have them all on their phone. Allow them to spend time on one app and demonstrate trustworthiness before rushing to add more.
And before they start using a new platform, make sure you know it well. Learn the in’s and out’s and decide if it’s right for your children. If they aren’t ready for one, then wait until they are before you give them permission.
4. Let them know the pitfalls.
It’s not about scaremongering; it’s about teaching your children wisdom in all things. They need to know there are dangers when it comes to social media usage. Talk with them about those.
What they post as teenagers will still be there when they are 20-somethings looking for a job and 30-somethings with families of their own. No matter what the app says, there’s always a way for someone to see or retrieve what was supposedly deleted.
5. Know all the passwords.
For every social network they join, you should know the password to their account. That doesn’t mean you check it every day, but it does mean you can if need be.
It’s like using training wheels to help them learn to ride a bike, you are providing a safety net as they learn to navigate something entirely new. Offer correction and encouragement as needed.
6. Show grace.
Think back to your times as a middle or high school student. What type of things would you have posted to social media had it existed then? Hopefully, that can give you a better perspective on your teenagers trying to navigate social media today.
They aren’t perfect in the real world, so recognize they won’t be online either. When they stumble—because they will—use times of failure as opportunities to learn and grow. Remember, you are trying to discipline them, not merely punish.
The teenage years have always been tumultuous and adding social media into the volatile mix certainly doesn’t make things easier, but both you and your children can not just survive this time, but thrive in it.
AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor of Facts & Trends.