Bullying, Comments and Likes — Oh, My!

What your teens what you to know about social media
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At a time when students spend nearly nine hours each day on digital devices and when, simultaneously, cyberbullying and reputation-damaging posts are running rampant, many parents are frightened. We fear the day our kid asks for a smartphone, or the moment he begs for a Snapchat account. We’re spooked by the possibility of our child being cyberbullied, or what might happen if we don’t monitor his or her texts. We wish social media would simply go away.

As the founder of The Social Institute, a North Carolina-based organization that empowers teens to use social media in positive ways, I have the joy of speaking with thousands of students across the country about technology. When I ask them about what their parents misunderstand about social media, they light up. It’s as if this were the first time someone asked them to “coach up” and help adults understand the positive power of social media.

Here are five reasons — straight from teens — about why social media isn’t so scary and what they wish parents knew.

“Social media is not all bad. It provides connections and a great advantage for us.”  — A 10th-grader

Students build friendships through social media. They nurture relationships through group chats, compliments on Instagram and Snapstreaks on Snapchat. High school and college students can even use LinkedIn to connect with professional role models and mentors to find internship opportunities and future jobs. For example, I landed several jobs thanks to the power of direct messages and LinkedIn profiles.

Rather than fearing online strangers and nonsense social media influencers, encourage your child to follow positive influences who will fuel their goals and core values.

“Finstas aren’t for hate or sharing inappropriate stuff.” — An 11th-grader

Studemts can use social media to post what reflects their character and core values, whether on their real Instagram or their “Finsta” account. Finsta refers to a “fake Instagram” profile — a second Instagram account teens sometimes create to hide posts from parents. In our survey of 1,700 ninth- through 12th-grade students, 34 percent admitted to having a Finsta account.

Rather than fearing the Finsta, discuss with your child that even though an account can be set to private, screenshots last forever and can always go public. 

“Sometimes texting can be better than calling. If you want to say a brief, specific thing, calling just becomes super awkward.”  — An 8th-grader

The truth is, a phone call is not always the right call. Students are learning to identify the best way to communicate with someone — in person or via phone, email, FaceTime, comment, individual text or group text. In our survey of 2,604 students between sixth and eighth grade, texting apps ranked as the respondents’ most-used app on a weekly basis. Approximately 81 percent of sixth-graders and 94 percent of eighth-graders text weekly.

Make sure your kids understand that if they must send a text while driving, they should pass their phone to a passenger and have him or her create the text message.

“It's not as simple as it seems.” — A 12th-grader

It’s true: Navigating social media isn’t so simple. Cyberbullying, for example, is more complex than ever with subtweets, passive aggressive messages and anonymous accounts. Kids need and want help. A Penn State University study published in February 2017 found that kids want their parents’ help with their experiences online, but they fear parental freak-outs.

Rather than overreacting the next time your child comes to you, listen and ask questions. Your sincere listening and understanding of his or her situation builds the foundation that will encourage your child to come to you for advice regularly when the going gets tough.

“Technology is a vital part of our lives now. Understand that and stop trying to fight it.” — An 8th-grader

Social media is not going away. It’s here to stay and it’s only going to keep growing. New apps and multiplayer video games are emerging each month. New celebrities enter the spotlight and often fill our kids’ feeds. Rather than fight what’s current, we must proactively empower our kids to navigate it.

Social media isn’t as scary when we proactively equip our children. Channel that fear into huddling with your child. You will spark an ongoing conversation that will equip your child with lifelong skills to navigate one of the greatest influences in his or her life.

Laura Tierney, a digital native who got her first phone at age 13, is founder and president of The Social Institute, which offers students positive ways to handle one of the biggest drivers of their social development: social media. She also recently became a mom. Learn more at thesocialinstitute.com.


Categories: Kids + Media, Parenting, Teens