Thursday, January 30, 2014

Teens and Social Media: How to Protect Your Kids Online

Social media is becoming a major source of communication, especially for teenagers. Currently, 95% of teens are online and 94% have a Facebook account. As teenagers gain access to the internet, parents are becoming concerned about how to protect and keep their children safe while they are online. Here is what you need to know:

Adolescence is a time of identity formation --

 It is important to know what teens are experiencing developmentally in order to help understand their behaviors. They are in the midst of forming their own identities and experimenting with different music, fashion, trends, and social groups. They are building relationships outside of the home and trying to find a balance between family, friends, and school. Teens are also testing limits, especially in regards to responsibilities and independence. Social media becomes an outlet for experimentation and a source of feedback.

Healthy and solid parent/child relationships lay the foundation for good adolescent decision-making online --

It is essential for parents to build a strong and healthy relationship with their teens. It is important to try and establish a safe family environment of trust, openness, honesty, patience, and understanding. Try to remember what it was like to be a teenager. Teens want to impress their friends. They want to fit in. They want to be liked. Considering the social pressures teens face, it is normal to expect that they may also act out online, when social media has become a prime source of interaction, and/or not use the best judgment throughout their teenage years. The best way to help prevent potentially harmful behaviors is to focus on instilling a sense of security, confidence, and pride in teens by modeling positive self worth, care and kindness toward others, and the ability to deflect the negativity of others. Praise, support, listening, and encouragement help teens feel good about themselves; when they have a positive self worth, they make better decisions.

Behavior has meaning --

Also keep in mind that all behaviors have meaning, so try to explore the meanings behind your teens’ behaviors. What is the function of social media in their lives? Do they seem to use it just to keep up with their friends or does it appear that they are doing things to seek attention or praise? Their actions online might suggest that they are missing something inside themselves and are seeking it externally through social media.

Communication is essential --

One of the most important ways to connect with teens is simply talking to them. Spending time with teenagers and making them feel important and valued can help build a stronger relationship while opening the door to communication. Talk to teens about the latest trends, what they think is appealing about them, what they dislike, what they think about what their friends do, and so on. Try to avoid ‘drilling’ them and rather sit down and simply talk with them. Keeping the dialogue open and consistent allows teens to know that their parents are available to make time to talk about anything that may be concerning them. Parents can remind teens that they are there to support and protect them.

Teens want and need limits and boundaries --

Many parents may think that teens do not want to spend time with them. They may push parents away and seem overly defiant, yet teens are simply testing authority as they gain more and more independence. They want and need limits and boundaries. It can be overwhelming and even daunting for teens to have too much freedom. According to data collected from Pew Research, 70% of teens are Facebook friends with their parents, yet only 5% limit what their parents can see on their profile. Teens want their parents involved even if they do not verbally acknowledge it. They also need their parents involved. When asked about online activities, 1 in 4 teenage girls and 1 in 10 teenage boys said they had been contacted by someone they did not know in a way that made them feel scared or uncomfortable. Additionally, about 33% of teens are Facebook friends with people they have never met.

These statistics may be alarming yet very telling. Teens want their parents involved in their lives and prefer limits and boundaries to protect themselves and make them feel more comfortable online. The relationships and ongoing communication parents share with their teens provide the foundation for conversations about creating positive online experiences.

Posted by Sarah Smith
Source: Pew Research Foundation