Social media took the world by storm over 10 years ago and we didn’t run fast enough to keep up. It kind of got away from us. Many of us live in our little social media bubble of friends and family, occasionally getting a piece of world news through one of the news  feeds and that’s enough for us.

It didn’t get away from the younger generations though. These kids are growing up in this new age of learning things online. They get to connect with people all around the world and develop their interests in things we never even thought possible: Japanese Origami, Brazilian Ju-Jitsu or anything in between.

The positives of Social Media for families

In many ways it’s brought us closer to our kids too. We can call children anytime we like because even though they may not live with us, they have their smartphones and can text and video. Facetime lets us see them, right there on our screen. Gone are the days when you barely recognize family members after not having seen them for months. Now, we get to keep up with their antics as they develop into adults.

The reality of Social Media for Teenagers

This however, is the world of teenagers…

Everyone is out to get you. Your friends are talking about you behind your back (because of course they are). Your parents can’t stop nagging you to do the chores. You don’t have time. You’ve got things to do. People to see. Messages to reply to. Posts to curate for social media.

That cute photo of you that took you an hour to take to get the lighting just right is waiting for an amazing caption. Oh wait Jenn has just posted something better check that real quick. OH MY GOD MARCUS LIKED MY POST. HE LIKED MY POST. I have to go and tell all my friends!

These thoughts are just some of the millions of things that go through the heads of teenagers today. When you’re in suburbia, your friends are still around you and if you’re lucky, your parents give you a bit of freedom to go out with them.

It’s a little different when you are stuck in a boarding house.

The challenge of Boarding School

The problem with boarding school for parents is, and always has been, your level of influence. You want to know that your kids are safe, well taken care of and are also happy. It seems that to balance all these things, you need to get rid of the one thing that is keeping them closer to you: their smart phones. How do you control their smartphone usage while they are miles and miles away?

What parents can do to help their children on social media

There are apps that you can use to regulate what your children are doing online. But do you really want to invade their privacy like that? Because of the physical distance between you, it might actually be the best option.

In deciding whether or not to use a monitoring app, the key thing to ask yourself is: Do I really need to monitor my child? Do I need to know what is going on because they are lying to me?

Have a discussion with your child about the reasons behind why you are doing it, and what you will be watching out for. Be explicit about honouring their privacy but watching out for sexting/ bullying/gambling, etc.

Other things you can do include:
1 – Making sure that the school has a solid technology policy in place. Each school should already have a social media policy in place. It can be as strict as no phones after 9pm to being rather much more relaxed about it. Make sure that you understand how technology is being used at school.

There should be a technology curfew that requires all students to hand in their wares before lights out.

2 – Actively watching what your child is doing on social media. Add their friends, keep an eye out on what they say to each other or what kinds of photos they post, what kind of comments they write or respond to. If necessary, ask for their social media passwords so you can log in regularly to see what they are up to.

You can easily keep an eye out to what they are doing, but there are also a lot of things they are likely doing behind ‘closed doors’ through messages and texts. Each child is different, but transparency is what is important here. If they are being open and honest then there is no need to watch like a hawk.

Yes, there will be things here and there that they are being secretive about but it doesn’t mean that you need to know 100% of all the things that are going on all the time.

3 – Stay engaged with them; communicate regularly. Long distance anything is hard enough, much less a relationship with your tween or teen. Try to make sure that you are staying in touch on a regular basis. If you have to schedule reminders for yourself to text or call your children. To create a habit, make a standing appointment: Every Thursday at 7pm we will video call.

By staying in touch with your children you are naturally keeping tabs – they will be able to tell you about their ups and downs, their fights with their friends, etc. Make sure that you use this time as a listener rather than act as a teacher.

As parents we are easily swayed into ‘I told you so’ or ‘you should do this, you should do that’. Resist the urge. Play the listening ear and really try to understand where your kids are coming from. Are they speaking out of anger, fear, revenge…? Look beyond the words to see what their motivation is and from there be supportive and ask them thoughtful questions to make them think about their actions (without being judgmental).

4 – Netiquette. For teenagers who are trying to be philosophical and experience all sorts of things, it might be most useful for them to see things in writing. When in doubt, always make a list. Pro/con lists are very useful (and something easy to do online with your kids with the distance). Google Docs are a great way to collaborate on documents and can keep you organized, too! But when it comes to online etiquette, ensure that you are also writing things down in black and white. By agreeing to terms and conditions of Internet Usage, you are setting boundaries and consequences that they know they will have to abide by. Make the school/guardian aware of it too so that everyone is involved (and invested) in keeping your child safe online.

Cyberbullying is the 24 hour threat to children

It’s no secret that when it comes to cyberbullying, the problem is that it follows your children everywhere. When it came to traditional bullying, they were safe in their own homes. They could once physically put distance in between their problems at school and their home life. Bullying has always been an issue and this has only intensified with social media.

By taking steps to ensure that our kids are safe and aware of the potential dangers you will diminish a lot of potential problems for all parties involved. Make sure you, too, stay in the know of what is going on. Don’t shy away from questions and don’t be afraid to ask.

There are plenty of online resources to find out the latest trends and questions that other parents also have on social media. Check out Horizons21 on Facebook and join the group. Parents from all around the world come together to ask questions, raise concerns, and learn from each other.