Friday, September 23, 2016

Advice For Navigating Your Kids' Social Media World

Originally I planned to write about the importance of self-care in every woman's life. I wanted to discuss how becoming a wife and mother has relegated me to the back burner. Everyone must set aside time for themselves, even if it's just to walk around the grocery store drinking a Starbucks or Diet Coke. But I can't talk about that right now.

I must talk about social media and how we are to navigate this outlet in our lives. Yes, I see the irony of a post on social media about social media, but bear with me.

As a high school teacher, I am more aware of new social media than other parents my age. My students always tell me about Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. There are certain aspects of social media that scare the hell out of me.

So many young people (and some older people) are oblivious to the seriousness of what they post online. Social media advances so quickly that it is difficult for schools, parents, and other authorities to stay ahead of the curve. When kids are more adept at social media and technology than their parents, then parents are put in the difficult position of protecting their children and monitoring their behavior on technology with which they aren't as capable. People post questionable pictures, threats, and comments every day. A few of my students sent nude photos to their boyfriends, only to have the boyfriend share the photos with other people. I know students who dealt with legal repercussion of posting threats to individuals or groups of people. Even "liking" or commenting on someone else's questionable post can cause problems if parents, teachers, or police become aware of the situation.

In the 21st century, many colleges and potential employers are mindful of their students' and employees' social media accounts because they reflect on the school or employer, and some people may not be worth the liability. This can be especially problematic if colleges and employers find old posts that may be a reflection of the poster's immaturity and teen angst rather than their current feelings and beliefs.

Do you as a parent need to have constant access to your child's social media accounts? Maybe. But doesn't that foster distrust when your child has no safe outlets? Do you ban all social media usage? Won't that mean that you have to avoid social media as well? I have many friends who I primarily keep in touch with through social media. So, what are we to do?

Talk to your kids and listen to their responses. People think young people are supposed to listen and not speak. Many days, I'd rather sit around and talk with my 17- and 18-year-old students than with adults. Their views of the world fascinate me. They are idealists and visionaries, yet unjaded by the world. And I might add, pretty damn funny.

Be part of their lives. Just this year, I have found that many of my kids have horrible relationships with their parents. I understand that teenagers rebel against parental control, but so many of them desperately want to feel that their parents are there for them. They may try to act grown up, but they are just big kids.

Create a safe place for your kids. My kids know that they can talk to me about anything, and everything is safe-zoned, except for instances of hurting themselves or others. I know what alcoholic beverages they prefer, who is smoking pot, and who had recent pregnancy scares. The last thing I tell every student who comes to me is, "Have a good day. Make smart choices!" If that means not drinking, so be it. If that means not driving after drinking, so be it. I am not going to try to force them to make the choice I would make, but I am going to encourage them to make the smartest decision they can. I have received calls and texts from kids in the middle of the night asking if I can drive them home. I have checked social media the next morning and sent texts, DMs, and tweets asking them to let me know they are okay. I don't nag them, but I let them know that not only do I care about their progress in my class, but I want them to make it to the next phase of their lives.

Don't ignore the warning signs. So many parents want to be their kids' friend instead of their parent. If someone tells you that your child is involved in drugs or is making other destructive decisions, don't be angry at the messenger. Teachers are often privy to more information than parents are because of the nature of our careers. If parents get angry at teachers for telling them about their children's actions instead of getting upset with their children, then this helps no one!

Be aware of what kids are doing online. I'm not advocating spying on them or demanding access to their social media accounts, but don't put your head in the sand and ignore that something is going on with your children. Be proactive. No, you won't be able to catch everything that your kids do, but you will catch some.

No parent or teacher wants to see a young person arrested, suspended, or worse for posts and comments on social media. As parents and teachers, we must form a united front to help our kids navigate social media and progress to the next stage of their lives as unscathed as humanly possible. 

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