Managing Teens and Social Media



If you’re raising a teenager, you’ve likely wrestled with questions about the influence of social media. Parents ask, how much Internet access should I allow? How do I keep my kids safe as they communicate and interact in a digital world?

At a free Forum for Parents of Teens, licensed professional counselor Christina Burns discussed safety concerns, online reputations, and tips for ways to limit teens’ exposure to the Internet. Managing social media is one in a series of sessions that will cover online dating, respecting authority, time management, and bullying.

The forums, sponsored by McVay Counseling Center, run from noon to 1 p.m. on Thursday, September 4, 11, and 18. Location: Germantown United Methodist Church, Mike Wilson Fellowship Hall. To register, call Monica Christian at 754-7216.

Here are some tips Burns shared at the forum on social media.

BECOME FAMILIAR WITH APPS

With cell phones, teens have 24/7 access to the Internet. Burns strongly advises parents to find out what phone apps teens are using. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act sets a minimum age of 13 for those who use social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram. Younger children and even some older teens may lack the maturity to handle risks.

That’s where you come in. Get involved, communicate, and help your teen avoid mistakes for which he might pay a heavy price. Burns shared real-life scenarios with parents. A teen who texts a nude selfie to a boyfriend stands to be humiliated if the photo is forwarded to others. Kids who keep cell phones next to their beds, responding to friends’ texts or calls in the middle of the night, thus losing sleep and compromising their health. An adult, posing as a 12-year-old peer, can develop an online, predatorial relationship with a child.

FOCUS ON SAFETY

A public account means anyone can follow your child’s posts, so make sure you go over the privacy settings with them. With Instagram, even a private account has a public profile, meaning anyone can view your teen's photo, username, and bio. Kids can also be tagged by others and cannot untag themselves without contacting that friend.

• Require kids to give you their passwords and periodically spot check their social media accounts to make sure they're not making inappropriate posts.

• Warn kids not to post their home address or current location. “You don’t want your child to post, ‘I’m going to shoot baskets by myself at the park for a few hours,” notes Burns. You can turn off a phone’s GeoTagging feature, which gives geographic location.

• Talk to your teen about the long-term impact social media posts can have on friendships and/or work and college applications. Remind them that digital posts are easily copied and shared. They’re more likely to get the message when you provide specific examples of how posts could jeopardize their reputations. As your child guards his own privacy, he can show the same respect to friends and get approval before sharing photos of pals.

CONSIDER FILTERING SOFTWARE

Unfortunately, kids don’t have to seek out racy online content to have it show up on their screens. A decorating website might link to porn images. And if kids are actively searching out inappropriate content, there’s plenty to find.

You’re in control, and using filtering software is one solution. Burns recommends My Mobile Watchdog for Androids, as well as Net Nanny and Pure Sight for PCs. You can also turn off your teen's phone access to the Internet.

Also be aware that, according to Tennessee law, anyone creating, possessing or distributing sexually explicit images of a minor can be charged under the state's pornography statues. If a minor is convicted of a felony, he is required to register as a sexual offender.

LIMIT NIGHTIME ACCESS

Have kids turn in their phones at night and charge them downstairs in the kitchen or den. Have a 'lights out' policy one hour before bedtime, where everyone's devices go on the charger.

Bottom line? Fostering an open relationship with your teen is key. “They need to interact with you and feel accountable to you.”

Next week: Balancing schoolwork, extracurriculars, and social life.

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