Teens by nature are “addicted” to their social network. But, has your teen’s social media use crossed the line from normal to atypical?
Addiction is usually triggered by emotional stress, says Amanda Deverich, a licensed marriage and family therapist.
“It is tough to determine if your child is soothing with social media due to emotional stress or if the use is normal adolescent identity formation seeking connection and affirmation from peers,” Deverich says. “Nonetheless, parents should be on the lookout for excessive use, devotion and response to social media.”
Social media use is a problem if it interferes in other areas of your child’s life, such as if she:
• Isn’t completing homework, chores or other responsibilities.
• Isn’t getting enough sleep.
• Experiences excessive social drama, including bullying and social isolation.
Take steps to prevent social media from dominating your child’s life.
Set boundaries. First, explain that social media use is a privilege and will be rescinded if abused. Decide ahead of time when and where your child can log into her accounts. Consider creating “no-tech zones” in your home, like around the dinner table or at bedtime.
“Parents can readily leverage social media time for chore completion, dinner participation and happy attitudes,” Deverich says. “An abuse of social media privilege should result in strict monitoring with a gradual release of freedom followed by random checking.”
To further control social media use, set passcodes on your computer that require you to sign your kids onto their accounts.
Educate yourself. Even if you don’t plan to be an active participant on social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter, sign up for an account to help yourself learn the ins and outs of how the sites work.
Role model healthy online behavior. Show your child your accounts and talk about what kind of information you feel is appropriate to share and how often you post and check in. Also, keep in mind that many social media platforms require that users are at least 13 years old, in accordance with the “Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.” Don’t allow your child to lie about his age.
“Doing so will make it much more difficult to get them to take you seriously later when you talk with them about good practices for crafting their digital identity,” says social media researcher Anand Rao, Ph.D., associate professor of communication, University of Mary Washington.
Monitor social media use. Collect your kids’ passwords. Since they can set comments and photos to post without you seeing them, randomly log into their accounts to check on their activity.
“Don’t worry about being a stalker,” Deverich says. “Parents are not stalkers. They are parents!”
Encourage offline interaction. Make sure your teen is involved in extracurricular activities that create opportunities for face-to-face interactions. Nurture a wide range of communication practices beyond social media, such as making phone calls to friends or writing letters to relatives.
“Social media is a wonderful complement to their offline lives, but only if they work to also maintain those offline connections,” Rao says. “Stay involved, talk with your teens, and help them build life skills that will benefit them for years to come.”
Popular Teen Apps
Instagram– photo and video sharing site that allows users to apply filters to photos and share through social networks. Change default settings to private and disable geo-location which make it easy for predators to map where your child typically hangs out. Encourage child’s friends to do the same as predators can track kids through friends’ photos.
Tumblr– creative microblogging platform for easily posting photos and audio/video. Blogs are grouped according to categories. Potential to be exposed to mature content. Primary accounts are public and anyone can post and send direct messages to other users.
Snapchat– photo-sharing app that vanishes from the friend’s screen after one to 10 seconds depending on the amount of time the sender sets. Exercise caution as recipients can easily take a screenshot of a photo and circulate at will.
Kik– a messenger app in which users text and share photos with each other one-on-one or in a group. Set privacy settings and block unknown individuals. Avoid posting usernames on public social networks which can attract unwanted attention from child predators, Internet trolls and cyberbullies.
Twitter– registered users post up to 140-character text messages called tweets. Set up privacy options in account settings to approve or deny follower requests.
Vine– Twitter video app in which users create and share six-second looping videos to their profiles and link the videos to other social networks. Age requirements are 17 and up, but are easily bypassed by younger teens. Exposes teens to sexually explicit content. The app’s geo-locator can enable child predators to track your child.
Ask.fm– anonymous ask and answer platform. The site is ripe for abuse as users can anonymously harass, bully or post sexually explicit questions on other user’s profiles.
Other apps to check out include Whisper, Tinder and Textplus. Popular teen apps change quickly. Watch, listen and learn. Talk to your kids about using social media responsibly and with integrity. Use news stories and TV shows as opportunities to start conversations about online behavior.
Freelance journalist, Christa Melnyk Hines, is the author of Happy, Healthy & Hyperconnected: Raise a Thoughtful Communicator in a Digital World. To learn more, visit www.christamelnykhines.com.