Learn how to navigate your child's social media use with these 6 tips.

Navigating the in-roads into your teen’s life is like navigating a mine field. Bring back some of your parenting skills, believe it or not, from when your teen was just a wee little baby. You were tuned into your baby’s feelings and needs and probably fairly good at meeting them. 

Well, teens aren’t much different.

Here are a few tips to help you and your teen get through the social media journey together.

1. Social Media Can Make Private Things Public

We work hard as parents to help our kids understand that privacy is important. We teach them to keep the door shut when they’re using the bathroom and to knock before walking in someone’s bedroom. 

But we also need to teach our children the boundaries for privacy in the digital world. 

Passwords that are kept private are helpful to keep children safe—just like a key to their front door. Say to your child, “I heard some say people shouldn’t post anything on social media they don’t want an enemy or a stranger to see or to know. What do you think about that?”

2. Staying Safe is Normal

Treat social media safeguards as you would any other safety device—seat belts in the car, locking the front door at home, wearing helmets while riding bikes, being careful of strangers. Putting safeguards on their game systems and phones (if they have them) is a good idea for everyone to do, even parents. 

Choose safeguards as a family for all devices—including your own. Including your child in this larger conversation makes them part of the family safety rather than feeling like the victim of a limit they do not understand. Ask your child, “What kinds of safeguards do you think we each should put on our devices?”

3. First Things First

Ice cream for dinner and vegetables for dessert may sound like heaven, but over time it will lead to poor nutrition. Such is the case with screen time. Too much screen time robs children of playing with friends face-to-face, limits their learning to collaborate on a project or a game and replaces exploring the outdoors.

Help your family balance screen time and place it properly in your family’s day. Rather than making screen time a reward for good behavior, think about making it a game your family can enjoy together and keep it time limited to the youngest member in your family. 

4. Create Boundaries and Limits

It’s painful to see a couple on a date who are both focused on their texting apps or a mother strolling with her baby choosing to talk at length to a friend on the phone, while ignoring the coos and excitement of her baby. 

The internet easily becomes an intruder, quietly demanding attention with a chirp or a ping.

Set examples of boundaries with your whole family, like these options:

  • No cell phones at the dinner table
  • Charge phones at a family charging station outside of the bedrooms
  • Limit phone use by being conservative about posting frequency 
  • Establish a reasonable time that phone and internet use should be put to bed
  • Discuss how you might let friends know that “it’s too late to call”

5. Make Sharing Passwords a Necessity

These pesky strings of upper and lower case letters, numbers and special characters drive most of us crazy—whether we have too many of them, forget them, or are trying to figure out the key to our child’s devices. 

Unlike adults who might try and write them down in a reasonable spot, kids keep changing them to keep adults out of their business. As parents, though, it's okay to make a deal like, “You can use Instagram as long as I have your password.” 

Here is where we need to be honorable... snooping just to snoop is not honorable. Checking up on our kids because we are concerned about their safety, however, is called parenting.

6. Establish a Village

Parents learn a lot from other parents. Inviting your peers to be part of your village is a good idea. Some parents have inside info on what parties are going on, what kids are likely causing trouble, or who might be emotionally struggling and needs help. 

Most kids don’t want their parents following them on social media, however, they might invite cousins, aunts, neighbors, coaches, or youth leaders to follow them because this is the way our kids keep up with what’s going on. 

Rely on your village to be watchful and keep you informed when something concerning seems to be going on.   

Additional Parent Reflections

Take a moment to reflect on these questions. They might provide you with some insight to what's missing in your family's digital routine.

  • What conversations about social media safety have I had with my children? What should we discuss?
  • What software safeguards am I prepared to put in place for my kids and what do I need for myself?
  • What do I need to learn about the digital world to make myself aware of my child’s world? How will I go about learning this?
  • How can I express my concern or frustration in a way that is more caring and sensitive to my child’s developmental phase and builds bridges rather than walls?
About Charlene Underhill Miller, PhD

Charlene Underhill Miller, PhD is a psychotherapist in Southern California with private practices in Santa Monica and Malibu. She helps parents, children, couples and individuals. A graduate of UCLA and Fuller School of Psychology, Dr. Miller also is involved in school-based education and consultation, an adjunct faculty member of the Pepperdine University Graduate School of Psychology, a wife, mother, and stepmother. 

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