As parents of teens and young adults, you are fully aware of the prevalence of social media in our society. It seems to be the preferred method of communication amongst teenagers these days.
As with anything, there are many pros and cons to this. Of course, it is fun for teens to be in constant communication with their friends and be able to see and share what everyone is up to. But, it also has the potential to hurt people’s feelings, become addictive, and even get your teen into trouble.
It is important that they understand the potential negative impacts it could have, and behave accordingly. In an effort to help your teen make the best decisions possible, here are 5 rules of social media that you should be talking to them about.
- Do not post pictures of yourself drinking alcohol. And certainly don’t post pictures of yourself using drugs of any kind. Even if you are of legal age, and even if you live somewhere where marijuana is legal, it does not paint a very appealing picture of yourself. Do you want your school officials or your future boss to see this?
- Keep your language clean. It’s one thing to cuss or jokingly diss someone when you are face to face with your friends, and the context is clear. But the written word is powerful and lasting. This could easily be misconstrued and make you look mean, hurtful and even stupid. It’s just not worth it.
- Your clothing should be appropriate. Do not post pictures of yourself scantily clad. These could send a message that you are promiscuous, and once they are posted, they never disappear. Similarly, do not post yourself wearing clothing that may be offensive to others. Slogans and images can seem funny, but can be interpreted to others as something you believe in. I have personally seen teenagers in t-shirts with offensive sexual photos and racially charged slogans on them. This is not okay.
- Consider if your post might be hurtful to others. For example, would you post a picture of a bunch of friends having a get-together, even if you excluded one or two of your close friends? Might that hurt those that were left out? Did you turn down someone’s invitation tonight so that you could go out with others? If you post about it, will the other person see it and feel hurt? Be mindful before you post.
- Don’t allow yourself to become addicted to social media. This is really a thing. Are you able to make it through your homework without posting or checking social media? Can you make it through a meal or a movie? How long can you resist? Do you sleep with your phone near the bed and check it when you wake up in the middle of the night? Or do you turn it off and put it elsewhere for the night? Are you able to “turn off”?
The most important thing to teach your teen about social media is that, like anything electronic or online, once you post or share, it is permanently stored in cyber space. Even if you were to delete something after you sent, posted, or shared it, it could still live on and haunt you for all the days of your life.
Take, for example, nude or provocative pictures sent on snapchat. Think it disappears after your boyfriend views it? WRONG. He took a screen shot and sent it to a buddy. His buddy posted it on his Instagram page for all to see. Even if he pulls it down right away, 5 people saved it already and made it their iPhone background. See what I mean?
Remind your teen that the way you portray yourself online creates an image of who you are and what kind of person you are. The collection of your photos, statements, language, clothing, drug or alcohol use, and so on, allow others to ponder your character. What message do you want to be sending? Remember your teenager that siblings, extended family, friends, school officials, potential colleges and future employers can all see what they have posted. Many people have been turned away from a college or denied and/or fired from a job based on something they posted.
So, what can you do if your teen is breaking the rules about social media? First and foremost, talk to them about it. Reiterate why the picture or statement could be hurtful or damaging. If you saw drugs or alcohol, you may need to explore if your teen needs help, or if this is something you need to have consequences for. Whether it is language, promiscuity, offensive comments, or an addiction, remember that you are the parent. Chances are you own the phone that your teen uses. You have the right to give consequences for inappropriate behavior. You can take the device away. You can take a car away. You can ground your teenager. You can search their room for drugs or alcohol. You can discuss cause and effect with them. Try to keep the conversation going, and for God’s sake, lead by example.