How to Help Your Teen Navigate the Dangers of Social Media

Jun 24, 2016

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Today seemed like an ordinary day, until your teen turned your world upside down. You went online to find out your teenager just broadcasted to ALL 1,500 of their "personal" Facebook friends that your family is out of town for a week and your home is a target for a break-in. What else is she sharing when I'm not looking?

Over sharing is a REAL problem and most tweens/teens just don't get it. Whether it is the live video of you losing your temper on the phone, telling everyone about that new gadget you just bought, telling everyone about the "funny" argument you just had with your boss, co-worker, spouse, best friend, or the unfair punishment that you just instituted, ugh!

Not to mention, my personal favorite when they broadcast from every location they visit including their school, home, restaurants, stores, etc. I think you get the picture. Perhaps you are worried about those status updates that are either totally out of pocket, or the ones would make a perspective employer or college admission officer click the no-way button before they even hit the front door. These are some of the most common challenges that you as a parent have to deal with when your teenager loves social media just a little too much for their own safety and your sanity.

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I can't tell you how many times I have seen teenagers leave more than enough information on social media to lead a pedophile or criminal right to them or right to your home. Even trying to explain the danger of sharing over exposed sexy pictures, Snapchats to boyfriends or girlfriends or even being involved in sharing someone else's can quickly go from child's play to a criminal offense that can harm them for the rest of their lives.

As a concerned parent how do you fight back so your teen or tween understands that there are real dangers on social media that they need to think about and consider?

  1. Talk about these challenges often and speak their language.
    You don't want to nag them, but you do want them to understand that they need to consider how people who they know and people who they don't will look at what they post and THINK they know who they are. Sharing examples of people who they respect who are making "social media" mistakes can help. You can ask them how they feel about the things that are shared and how other people might feel if they saw or read them. It may take a while, but it can give them some perspective.
  2. Change their settings.
    Unless your child is a social media star, think about setting their account to private that way they have more control about who can see their posts and who has access to them. You may also want to make sure that you have the strongest privacy settings on their accounts. Turn geo-tracking off, make sure that only friends can see what they post and not friends of friends, and discourage them from using services like check in, foursquare, and swarm that tell people exactly where they are.
  3. Send them to the authorities.
    Police forces across the country have units that focus on cyber crimes. They focus on sexual offenders, bullying, sexting, and anything that happens online where people break the law. They are incredible sources of information for you and your child. They also may be able to share things with your teens that you have been saying for months, even years and be able to get through to them. The things they see are real and scary, unsuspecting teens who got pulled into criminal cases just by sharing a picture, or pedophiles who have plotted on smart, poor unsuspecting teens who share too much or who are too eager to find a listening ear.
  4. Help them think about the danger that they can put themselves or others in by sharing more than they should.
    Your teen might not understand how dangerous sharing is so tell them, and if they don't listen connect real consequences and make sure you enforce them. If they over share things like the location they are visiting or who they are with, set boundaries. If they don't follow the rules, take their gadgets away or restrict their access.
  5. Connect them with peers and people a little older than themselves who are willing to share their digital stories.
    This won't work for everyone, but when your teen hears someone else's story some of it MAY sink in. It's not hard to find people who thought they knew better, who found out the hard way they were wrong. Look for real life stories share them and then have a real conversation with your teen.
  6. Be Patient and Repeat, Repeat and Repeat.
    Your teen is going to do dumb things and some of them may even be online. Don't get discouraged, expect it, just pray that the mistakes they make are small, not big. Set a good example by setting a standard of privacy yourself. When they make mistakes don't ignore them, talk about them and try not to yell, and scream. You want to keep the lines of communication open. Also, don't stop talking about this, some of what you are saying really does sink in.
  7. Pay attention.
    Don't wait for them to tell you-make sure you have access to ALL of their profiles and pay attention. Use parental controls like Net Nanny ® to help you. When you see something that concerns you, talk about it. Face the issues head on and do it often. You don't want to be a pest, but you do want to be a parent. Make sure they know you will be checking out what they do-because you care.

Social media is here to stay and the dangers and challenges are going to grow with it. As things progress you may have to be more diligent. Keep the lines of communication open and let them know that they can come to you. This is so important. Stay informed and involved and talk to your friends and other parents to find out how they handle this with their kids. Don't worry, you've got this.