Social Media Advice for Parents: Huddle — Don’t Helicopter
When it comes to teens and technology, take a conversational approach
In sports, a huddle is when a team gathers together, usually in a tight circle, to strategize, celebrate or motivate each other.
As a former college athlete, I know a lot about huddles on the field and in the locker room. As a teen growing up with technology, I also know plenty about huddling with my parents while navigating social media. Now, as a social media coach to tens of thousands of teens, I have learned that when it comes to providing instruction on the safe and thoughtful use of technology, huddling with teens beats “helicoptering” over them.
Our team at The Social Institute considers huddles to be short, informal conversations about common social media scenarios. They can happen anytime and anywhere.
When I got a phone and social media accounts around age 13, I remember my dad “huddling” with me during the car ride to school. He would describe a tough situation I might encounter and follow up by asking, “What would you do?” Those hypothetical scenarios proactively helped me think through how I could navigate tricky situations before I actually experienced them.
Helicoptering, by contrast, is a short-term hovering approach that could be easily foiled by tech-savvy teens. Let’s face it — try as we might, our kids will always be one step ahead of us when it comes to technology and social media use. Sure, monitoring tools can be helpful to parents who want to set boundaries — but what happens when your teen figures out how to disable her VPN so it no longer tracks her online activity? And yes, following your child’s every move on Instagram may protect her short-term, until she secretly creates a Finsta (or “fake”/“friends-only” Instagram account), that you are unable to track down. Trying to keep up is like playing a game of whack-a-mole. Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, another challenge (or app) pops up.
So, what should a concerned parent do? Continue to use the aforementioned monitoring techniques if you find them helpful, but just like any great coach, also get into the habit of huddling with your team — your family. Huddle often and early.
How To Huddle
1. Don’t overreact. If your teen opens up about something, or if you find a post or other information you’re not happy about, keep your cool. This is hugely important. A 2017 study published by Penn State University found that teens want parental help with online risks, but don’t end up talking to their parents about these risks because they fear “parental freak outs.” You can still hold them accountable, but do so in a calm, controlled manner.
2. Adopt a “Botox Brow.” I love this teen communication tip from Michelle Icard, author of “Middle School Makeover: Improving the Way You and Your Child Experience the Middle School Years.” Keep your facial expression neutral, no matter how badly you want to react with a shocked or disapproving look. Then refer back to tip No. 1.
3. Ask questions and empathize. Understand that social media and “being social” are one and the same — it’s just how teens socialize today.
Unlike helicoptering, when you proactively huddle with your child, you build trust and equip him with a foundation to make thoughtful, real-time decisions in the future. That’s the ultimate win-win — and wins only come from huddling often.
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.