Remember the analogy in my recent post that compared kids to dogs and cats? And how kids under 13 are a lot like dogs? Happy to see you at the end of the day, easily trained, yada yada, and we need to take that opportunity while they are still young to ‘train’ them to properly engage on social media blah blah… Let’s turn the focus, for this post, to the ‘cats’, or the kids over age 13 better known as teenagers…deep breath, here we go.
I’ve noticed the metamorphosis in my oldest daughter as she’s grown from a ‘dog’ into a ‘cat’. As anyone reading this who has teenagers can attest to, the level of communication goes from thinking, “sometimes I wish I had a mute button” to “I’d pay money to get her to answer me with more than one word.” And, when you get home from work and still secretly expect your kids to come running to tell you all about their day, remember that cats rarely expend the energy to welcome your presence. Rather, they may wonder why you bothered to come home at all. Did I mention that cats sleep about 20 hours per day on average? Teenagers would too, if you let them. My point is that as they get older, they stop celebrating your presence.
Sometimes, this feels like a break- you get a few minutes to yourself to catch the news or flip through a magazine or start dinner….or write your 8th check this week for an extra-curricular activity. But, don’t let yourself get too disengaged, because here are a few examples of what’s happening when they are tucked away in their bedrooms doing ‘homework’, or hanging out with friends.
…Catching up on the news. Parent newsflash: the teenage newsfeed does not look like ours. They do not turn on NBC or Fox on a regular basis. News in their world is a Twitter feed. Or Facebook or Instagram. Or any number of others- Ask.fm, YikYak, SnapChat, YouTube, etc etc.
…Hanging out. Huh? Wait- I know what you’re thinking…’you said this is an example of what happens when they are tucked away in their bedrooms’. Yep. Remember that social media is where our kids are ‘hanging out’ today. This does not always occur in person. Do you know who they are talking to? What they’re posting? You may want to find out, so that your teen doesn’t become the subject of tomorrow’s Twitter buzz. Like the girl in my daughter’s high school who allegedly planned and threw a huge drug party and was then the subject of the Twitter feed for a week. This girl is the same one, who last night while I’m bringing my daughter home from cheer practice, tweeted, “I’m so high right now I’m probably gonna wreck my car but idga*”. Sure hope she isn’t driving on the same road I am. And, if she makes it home without killing herself or someone else, I would assume she isn’t planning on going to college…or working…unless college recruiters and prospective employers don’t have a problem with that kind of tweet. But, I think they do.
How did it become ok for your social media page to become your venting diary? Technology has moved so fast that not only has it passed many of us up as parents, but it has also removed the filter from what is socially acceptable for teens. It’s easy for them to be faceless and tweet something they wouldn’t ever say in person. I could go on for pages, but you know the stories. We hear them on the news every day.
Teenagers are constantly seeking freedom and independence without rules and boundaries- guess what social media offers? So, what can we do when our teenagers are already established on various social media sites, tweeting and posting and uploading photos and selfies every 11 seconds?
- Don’t bury your head in the sand. Yes, it is overwhelming. There are so many sites. But, if there were 10 parks around your neighborhood that your kids were spending all of their time at, wouldn’t you make sure they were safe? Wouldn’t you make sure that one of them wasn’t the local drug dealer hang out? Or the creepy pedophile hangout? Invest the time to do the same with every social media app your teen has on his/her phone. Figure it out. Don’t let them think they know more than you- it doesn’t take that much time to learn a little bit about these apps, and most importantly, the privacy settings. If you refer back to my post entitled, ‘Social Media 101 for Parents’, you’ll find a link to a site that gives you a great overview of each of the most popular social media sites today.
- This goes without saying, but I have to do it. Follow them and friend them. It won’t keep someone from cyber bullying them, but at least you’ll be in the know to some extent.
- Teach them and tell them at least 87 times a day- be choosey. To them, social media can be a popularity contest. But…the more friends you allow to follow you, the more at risk you are that someone is going to download something you post, use it to stir up unhealthy drama, or cyber bully. There is no need to have 600 people following you when you are 14. Or 16. Or even 18. Unless your name is Justin Bieber, you really aren’t that interesting. But, you are a target.
- Again, teach them and tell them at least 87 times a day- you are an amazing person. Make sure that every single post, picture and tweet reflects that. This is not your diary. Do NOT post when you are mad. Do NOT post for any reason unless it is a positive post or photo that serves to build you up or build up one of your friends or family members.
- Make sure they know this: you will be googled. Like it or not- how do think college recruiters and prospective employers find out about you? Applications and resumes are just part of the story. And parents of friends? Or the girl or boy you want to date? They are going to find you too. Your social media profiles and tweets and various posts will show up. So, when the parent of that girl you are dying to go out with googles you and sees how much you publicly enjoy adult beverages on the weekend at age 17, your chances of dating her just went down to about 0. Until she’s 60.
- Tech down time. I know. Dare I say it? Since phones have become pretty much another appendage, it seems impossible. BUT….what’s wrong with taking even an hour each evening off? Extract all electronic devices from their reluctant fingers (use WD40 if you must), but put everything in a drawer in your bedroom and take a tech break. Take the time to chat, catch up or memorize the scowls and pouts on their faces so that you can sketch them for an art class you’ll take when you retire.
- Be interested. When you’re in the car together, ask questions. It’s a little hard, going 65 MPH, for a teenager to jump out and head to his or her room. Use that time to talk about what’s going on with them, with their friends, at school, online. Ask them about newsfeeds or headlines, who their best teacher is this year, what their hardest homework project is right now, what their friends are tweeting about, whatever. Just, be interested.
Just like cats, teens need to believe you are interested in them- even if they don’t act like it. They may believe they know everything they need to know- because, remember, the older they get, the dumber you get. But, they are still learning and developing. As electronic parents, we have the power to set boundaries and expectations for our teens and their social media behavior. We also have the ability to set the example and show them how a digital persona cannot be re-invented or hidden later in life, but it can be a great vehicle to build themselves and others up to present the respectable person/brand that college recruiters are choosing and the best paying employers are hiring.
Everything you post on social media impacts your brand. How do you want to be known?
-Lisa Horn, a.k.a. The Publicity Gal