My Teen and Social Media: From Conflict to Connection
Snaps and stories. Followers and likes. Filters and shares. Comments and tags.
Social media has completely changed the landscape of what it means to connect. And what it means to parent a teenage girl. We worry they’ll be relentlessly bullied online, become addicted to their screen, be groomed by some dangerous weirdo, or come across harmful content. How on earth do we navigate this minefield that is social media?
Love it or hate it, social media is here to stay. The sooner we acknowledge that truth, the sooner we can get on proactively parenting our kids. Otherwise, we’re distracted locking the stable door when the horse has already bolted.
Current Social Media Climate Among Students
To understand the current social media climate amongst our students, I invited Years 7, 8, 9 and 10 students to complete a brief survey. The response was overwhelming. Over three hundred students completed the survey in the first two days. Our kids are passionate about social media and want to talk to us about it. The big four social media platforms they reported using were Snapchat (63%), Tik Tok (50%), Instagram (50%) and Youtube (50%). Most of our kids use these apps to goof around, create funny content and connect with their mates. End of story. But, of course, there are darker uses of socials, too, such as the many potentially dangerous (and even illegal) viral challenges on Tik Tok, and the more subtly harmful and relentless image-comparisons prompted by Instagram. As parents, we need to empower ourselves with information. Check out the ‘Connect Safely’ website that explains the lists and available safety measures for the most prominent social media platforms.
I asked my survey respondents why social media was so important to them. Overwhelmingly, they reported it was important because it helped them connect with their friends.
“I can meet people who understand and support me when I go through tough things. It’s like a release or a breath of fresh air.” Year 9 student
Whilst we may shake our heads and wonder why our teen is locking themselves away in their room for hours on end on their phone, this increased need for connection with peers is part of typical child development. In adolescence, for the first time in their lives, the most important and influential people in a child’s life shift from being their parents to their peer group.
But do our kids know what they’re getting into on social media? I asked them this, too. And the good news is the majority of kids understood very well that there were downsides to social media. They’ve heard us. They told me about the risk of bullying, distraction, addiction, self-esteem, and body image risks. These downsides are all things we can help them with – if we are connected with them in their use of socials. I worry that if we do not connect with our kids around social media, they’ll stop talking to us about these downsides if we’re constantly in conflict about it. We will lose our valuable opportunity to support them. If we don’t connect with them, then we’re sending them into battle on their own.
So How Do We Help?
Guidance for how we parent around social media comes from decades of research on the four parenting styles:
Authoritarian (eg, non-negotiable rules around social media because ‘I’m the parent and I say so’)
Permissive (eg, free reign on the phone to avoid conflict)
Uninvolved (eg, no interest in whether the child has social media or not) and
Authoritative (eg, mutually respectful relationships where the child’s opinion is validated and negotiated rules are set in advance).
Research overwhelmingly shows that children of authoritative parents are more likely to be responsible, mentally healthy individuals skilled in solving their own problems and making their own decisions.
The two key principles of authoritative parenting are connection and setting behavioural boundaries.
1. CONNECT WITH YOUR DAUGHTER AROUND SOCIAL MEDIA
Create positive relationships by listening. Be curious, non-judgemental and validate how your daughter feels about socials.
Snap chatting with friends may not be necessary to you, but acknowledging that it is important to her, greatly aids connection. I’m not suggesting she have free reign on Snap Chat. Far from it. Setting boundaries is vital, but it can be done in a way that validates how she feels and what is important to her.
Results of our survey suggest we’ve got some work to do to connect with our kids around socials. About a third of respondents reported that socials were a source of conflict in their household.
I asked the girls: “What do you wish your parents understood about social media?”
The most significant proportion of responses related to a desire to acknowledge the dialectical dilemma that social media poses: that is, it is not all bad. They’ve heard us tell them that there are bad sides, and now they’re asking us to hear that social media is valuable to them. Recent research out of Harvard University suggests that they are on to something: moderate, mindful use of social media can actually benefit our wellbeing.
Looking for practical ways to connect?
- Get involved: be present where screens are used. Watch/talk about content together.
- Be a part of their media lives:
- Play their favourite game with them, and ask about their experiences (positive and negative) online.
- Avoid being judgmental or authoritarian.
- Just be curious (or they won’t share with you).
- Talk to them about what they think are the positives and negatives of social media.
2. SET BOUNDARIES AROUND SOCIAL MEDIA
Sit down together and negotiate a plan for everyone to follow that includes:
- Screen-free zones (eg no tech at dinner table)
- Screen-free times (eg one hour before bed, when doing homework)
- Device curfews
- Balancing online and offline time
- Digital citizenship (what does it mean to them?)
- Digital safety (eg privacy settings – your location on snapchat)
- Consequences for non-compliance
The most important aspects of setting these boundaries are:
- Do it collaboratively in a way that validates your daughter’s opinion. Be willing to negotiate (eg “okay, connecting with your friends on Snap Chat is important to you. And you getting adequate sleep at night is important to me. How can we negotiate so that both our needs are met?”)
- Agree on expectations and consequences in advance. There’s a wonderful online resource to guide you in making a family media plan available here.
Remember – it’s a family media plan, not a teen one. Everyone, parents included, is obliged to the same responsibilities. Maybe you connect with her around how hard it is to kick your own Instagram addiction and do it together!
3. EMPOWER HER TO MAKE SOCIAL MEDIA A POSITIVE INFLUENCE IN HER LIFE
Despite its bad rap, there’s lots of cute, funny, informative, and motivational content on social media, as well as positive global movements, welcoming global communities and slay dance moves! Empowering your daughter to use the power of social media for good involves inviting her to reflect on:
- What she is consuming. Help her clean up her feed so she consumes content that makes her feel good.
- How she is consuming content. Help her mindfully use social media with purpose and intention. Maybe that means setting aside 30 minutes where you are intentionally scrolling TikTok for the lols. Not scrolling Tik Tok whilst doing your homework and texting your mate.
- When she is consuming content, explore digital wellbeing tools like Apple’s ‘Screen Time’ app or Android’s ‘Digital Wellbeing’ app that allow you to set healthy limits on screen time. The Forest app even lets you earn credits by not using your phone and using the credits to plant trees in the real world! If socials are becoming a distraction on the laptop during homework time, use software like Family Zone, which restricts access to chosen sites at certain times.
- What she produces. Encourage a values-based social media presence. Perhaps prompt her to consider a social media’ mission statement or identify her online ‘brand’ or persona. Who does she want to present herself as? How does she feel when she presents herself in particular ways? This should be an open discussion that you approach in a curious and non-judgmental way.
All this, of course, is far easier said than done. We’re all going to stumble on the way, and we’re certainly not going to change our daughter’s relationship with social media overnight. Connecting with her in a non-judgmental way that validates what is important to her ensures that, throughout the stumbles, she knows you’ve got her back.
Useful outlines of the risks and safety measures available on different social media platforms are available here: https://www.connectsafely.org/allguides/
A great, online family media plan pro-forma is available here: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/media/Pages/default.aspx#home
Software for restricting/managing your daughter’s access to social media during study time is available here: https://www.familyzone.com/anz/families/how-it-works
The Forest digital wellbeing app is available here: https://www.forestapp.cc
A recording of our parent webinar is available here:
KIMBERLEE BURROWS | College Psychologist