Technology and Teenagers
Teenagers are very social. They connect to each other online, as they continue to build friendships they’ve started to form face-to-face. They may also build friendships with others who they haven’t met but enjoy shared interests.
For most parents generationally, there is a large gap to straddle here as most of us were born in a generation who did not have digital devices until our early adulthood. We need to consider the perspective of the teenager and be understanding that socially they would like to connect, and will do so either openly or covertly.
So, it’s important to talk with your kids about how to use social media wisely.
Make an online agreement
Monitoring social media for our teenagers helps restrict any content that could damage their personal wellbeing, but also limits any anti-social interactions they might be having online, such as mean comments, tagging friends in inappropriate/unwanted photos and posts.
Establish an agreement with your teenager, particularly if they are downloading and creating accounts without your permission or knowledge (and this should not be happening).
According to our national e-Safety Commissioner (2020), monitoring and restricting our teenagers’ use of social media can be one of the hardest, but smartest, things a parent can do.
Social media usage tends to be highest outside school hours, and often away from a parent’s line of sight, so a parent’s role in managing social media is a major protective factor for teenage mental health.
Consider age ratings
Is your teenager old enough to use that piece of social media? This can be a maturity aspect in which parents can make the judgement.
Also, consider the age rating for each social media platform. Each social media site and app has its own criteria for minimum age requirements. Most require users to be at least 13 years of age before they can register, but often there is no verification so children below that age can create an account by pretending to be aged 13.
An easy way to check the age rating is to visit the Australian e-Safety website or a simple google search.
Your teenager may be old enough, but are they actually ready for social media?
Consider the following questions (recommended by our national e-Safety Commissioner) before allowing your teenager to use social media:
- Does my teenager have a good sense of responsibility?
- Are they able to stick to the rules?
- Do they show a good understanding of actions and consequences?
- Do they know what a digital footprint is?
- Do they come to me or another trusted adult when they are distressed or if they encounter problems?
Social media is now intertwined with everyday life, and most Australian teenagers have access to their own mobile devices with internet connectivity.
What are your family rules about when and where your teenager can use their smartphone? And does your teenager respect these rules? For example, they do not create accounts without your knowledge or permission, they do not use devices in their bedroom at night, they listen to you, and they also respect school rules when at school.
Helpful parent checklist
- Keep an eye on age limits for social media apps.
- Use social media together. Supervision is important. You should know what your teenager is doing online and who they are interacting with. Just like you would when you give permission for them to go out at night, you would know where they are going and with whom. The same applies online.
- Have open conversations and often.
- Role model positive prosocial behaviour online.
- Be selective about what your teenagers engage in. Restricting and monitoring usage is an important part of parenting, and also a smart move for parents.
- Use trusted sources for positive content and keep track of updates to social media apps. The more informed you are, the better you can monitor changes to notifications and settings, particularly when updates may make apps go back to default settings.
- Help with privacy settings. Teenagers will need your help with turning off location settings, setting profiles to private, or turning off chat functions.
- Avoid confiscating digital devices as a consequence for poor behaviour. It may cause your teenager to fear losing social connections and discourage them from sharing problems with you. Instead, think of another consequence and make the outcome achievable.
- Avoid ‘sharenting’ – parents over-sharing on social media themselves. This is not good role modelling and can cause conflict in your relationship with your teenager who may not want you to share personal moments.
If you instead have a conversation with each other, this will help your relationship with the added benefit of helping them learn how to make good decisions about what they post as well.
- Check age ratings and consumer advice for apps and games on devices your teens use via the App Store or Google Play, and for movies and games, the Australian Classification Board’s online database.
- Raising Children Network has advice about choosing video games, online games and apps.
- NetAware (UK) offers a guide to popular social media apps, sites and games, including risks, age recommendations and safety tips.
- The Australian Council on the Children and the Media provides reviews of movies, apps and games, including gambling content advice, searchable by age and platform.
- Commonsense Media (US) offers a database of apps, games and websites searchable by age.
- Digital Parent Citizenship – being a good parent role model (and avoiding sharenting)
- Laws for Children using Social Media – see Child Mag’s take on this here
Federal Police advice on protecting children from online abusers
Meg Adem is Deputy Head of Secondary School and Science and Psychology teacher at Brighton Grammar, and the mum of a beautiful boy. This article is about Parenting
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