What can parents do to navigate the challenges of social media?
One of the biggest parenting challenges right now is figuring out the best way to handle social media issues. Teens currently can have access to so many different apps, and it can be overwhelming for parents to navigate how they all work and what to do about monitoring them. Our job as parents is to teach our kids to be competent – an important Imago principle. To help our kids become competent adults, parents must teach and support their kids with how to practice building and expanding their competency to:
- learn to be responsible when they access Internet distractions.
- be aware of the Internet’s serious dangers and consequences, such as bullying, predators, and breaking the law.
- have tools to help young people self-regulate, problem solve, communicate, and connect with other people.
In order for parents to feel confident in their own abilities to raise competent kids, parents need to feel confident about:
- talking to their kids about issues that do arise.
- clearly and consistently setting limits.
- forming and maintaining close and connected relationships with their kids, so kids want to talk and parents know their child’s involvement with the Internet.
- being informed and equipped on how to best handle social media issues.
Tip #1: Stay connected AND set limits
As an Imago Parenting Coach, my first recommendation is to focus on the important principle of having a strong connection with your kids as early as possible. Parents can always use the Imago dialogue as way to maintain a healthy relationship during the teenage years. (Please contact me for my parenting webinar, which explains what the dialogue looks like.) This way your teens feel heard and understood, which makes them want to keep sharing with you. Parents can also use the Imago Parenting tool H.O.L.D.:
H: Hear what’s being said – continue to listen and mirror what your teen is communicating to you
O: Offer validation and empathy – what they are saying makes sense to you and you can guess how your teen may be feeling.
L: Limit with love – know what your limits are around social media, make them clear and consistent, AND firmly communicate them to your teen in a loving, respectful, compassionate manner.
D: Determine choices – offer options as to what you decide is appropriate for your teen to have access to, various times that they can use social media, and/or choices to other activities.. Since parents need to empower their kids and kids want to know they have power, giving choices helps to empower teens and softens the blow of hearing ‘no.’
Tip #2: Teach kids the value of responsibility
Second, navigating social media issues is an opportunity for parents to teach the essential life skill of responsibility, with lots of practice. Social media brings up several areas of responsibility – financial, organizational, emotional, ethical, and legal. Parents are able to have access to their kids accounts, so they can supervise the activity. Just as a boss manages a new employee, gained trust and hard work empower the employee to become more independent. Parents need to remain firm and diligent until their kids demonstrate they are capable of handling social media.
Here are some things to think about:
- Having a phone is a financial responsibility What do you want your kids to understand and learn about owning something of that value?
- In order to know how to organize your time efficiently in university or at a job, you will have to know how to manage your workload while having access to life’s distractions.
- Teens need to be aware of the dangers of social media, like bullying and predators, and that the consequences can be severe, traumatic, and life-changing, including being conned into financial fraud, pornography, and suicide.
- Emphasize the importance of telling an adult right away if anything ever happens that makes kids feel uncomfortable, hurt, or unsafe.
- Role model having healthy boundaries, respecting and treating others with kindness and empathy are the best ways to raise healthy and thriving kids and combat bullying. (The dialogue does this too.)
Again, this conservation needs to happen over and over with regular check-ins to help support your teen to make good decisions and feel ready to handle the responsibility of social media. If your teen is not respecting the rules you have put in place, this is a sign that more teaching and support is needed by parents. You can say something like, “It seems like you are not ready for the responsibility of having a phone.” AND “I am willing to be proved wrong. Let me know when you are ready to have it back.” You can then remind your teen of the limits you have set, such as ‘You cannot have your phone during class time.’
Tip #3: Stay mindful about the teenage scrambled brain
My third point is that it’s important for parents to remember that our brains our not fully developed until 25 years of age, and the last part to develop is the pre-frontal cortex, which is in charge of executive functioning. This includes having the ability to:
- focus one’s attention
- predict the consequences of one’s actions
- manage emotional reactions and impulse control
- Plan ahead
- understand complex behaviors and make adjustments – “I can’t do A until B happens”
Dan Siegal’s book Brainstorm explains how teenagers brains are scrambled and that’s why they struggle with being happy, impulsivity, and making good decisions. He suggests ways to support and connect with your teenager during this difficult time of parenthood, and he reminds parents that we need to have empathy for our teens as this is hard time for them, too.
In addition, screen time does not help with brain development. It becomes a way to self-regulate in the moment, similar to how a glass of wine helps you to relax. Because teens’ brains are still developing, they need to develop other ways to know how to calm down, cope with down time and boredom, problem solve and be creative, and experience joy outside of what a phone might offer. Without these abilities, they are reliant on their phone to feel okay, and this is dangerous. This is why parents experience their teens as addicted to their phones, and that when they take the phone away, it can elicit anxiety and reactive behavior.
Tip #4: Continue to be informed
Finally, it’s important to educate yourself as a parent. Here are some resources that support parents with social media:
- Smart Social & their helpful short youtube videos
- The White Hatter
- Children & Social Media: What every parent should know