Social media is the place where all the world’s a stage and you—a grown adult—find yourself playing understudy to the next generation. Hey, we get it. As soon as you get a grasp on Facebook or Instagram they announce another big change. And new social media platforms are popping up all the time.
You might be tempted to just stay away from social media, but then you’d miss out on some big opportunities for connection.
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If you want to grow in relationship with your teen, you have to be willing to meet them when, where and how they need you. That includes social media. But before we can tackle how, we need to start with why.
Why do teens love social media?
Today’s high schoolers are busy. Sports and extracurriculars, AP courses, after-school jobs, internships, volunteer activities and SAT prep more-than fill up a semester. A scroll through Instagram gives students a chance to relax, breathe and maybe even laugh a little.
Social media isn’t just a means to community in the eyes of of a teen. It is community. When you choose to value community on their terms you set yourself up as a guide for positive social media experiences.
So we’re here to offer you a few do’s and don’ts for the road ahead.
Social Media Do’s:
Do encourage freedom.
Giving teens free reign of the internet might scare you—and it should. That’s why it’s important to set boundaries and enforce rules. Still, we can’t forget that high schoolers are merely adults in training. Allowing appropriate levels of freedom, based on age, enables you to coach moral abilities.
Do choose your battles wisely.
As students move from freshmen to seniors you should see more and more rationality and logic emerge. Oh happy day! Instead of hurrying the process to perfection, work with your teen help them grow in areas that seem to be the most challenging for them personally. When it comes to social media, address issues only after you consider their importance and how your correction may (or may not) help.
Do open their eyes to world.
Teens can tend to a bit self-focused. And social media, with it’s profile pictures and selfie posts, simply fuel the all-about-me flame. So fight fire with fire. Set the example for what it means to do social media right—and point students to other kids their own age who are making a difference online.
Do put everything into perspective.
High schoolers ask themselves questions like “Is everyone looking at me? Do they like me? Am I even being true to myself?” With instant likes and comments–or the lack thereof–social media sure is quick to judge. Talk regularly about the bigger picture, and about things that really matter. And do your best to encourage truth over a desire for popularity.
Social Media Don’ts
Don’t assume maturity.
With freedom comes responsibility, right? Unfortunately, we can’t trust that teens—who often struggle with long-term thinking—fully grasp what it means to be responsible on the internet. Make sure your social-media permission slip comes with a big warning paragraph and regular reminders of the fact that the internet is forever.
Don’t be merely a watchdog.
Teens are motivated to make good choices in the future when you catch them doing good in the present. So look for the good online. When you witness a kind comment, brag away. And remember that you can monitor high schoolers with your eyes, yes, but also your ears. Listening is the best tool around.
Don’t be embarrassing.
Yeah, we know. Our mere existence as adults can sometimes cause high schoolers to slide under the table in shame. We’re not asking for miracles here, but simply intention and forethought. Don’t leave a comment, share a story or post a picture that might embarrass your teen. If you’re unsure of how they might feel, ask.
Don’t dismiss the power of your voice
As students inch toward graduation, they may also lean in relationally, discovering that they need you more than they thought. Make the most of your relationship by showing up—through comments, messages and texts, but also the old-fashioned way. Pick up the phone and call. Leave a voicemail if you have to. Be okay if all you get back is a text. Your voice—your actual voice—matters.
Additional Reading: Why Kids Need More Than Just Their Parents
And isn’t that what this balancing act is all about? An opportunity for you to use your voice for good in the life of a teen. The ear of a high schooler is quite the coveted thing.