Navigating the in-roads of social media can feel like you're navigating a mine field.

Helpful Roadmap Thumbnail

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. Teens aren’t much different.

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

Social Media Can Make Private Things Public

We work hard as parents to help our kids understand that privacy is important. Keep the door shut when you’re using the bathroom; knock before you walk in someone’s bedroom; don’t ask the lady at the supermarket why she uses a cane. 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?”

Staying Safe is Normal

Treat social media safeguards as you would any other safety device—seatbelts 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?”

First Things First

Ice cream for dinner and vegetables for dessert may sound like heaven but for many of us, over time, it will lead to sour stomachs and 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. Rather than nagging your child to “turn it off NOW,” try asking “how much more time do you feel you need before you get to your homework?”  Letting them be part of this decision and helping them learn to take responsibility is important.

Create Boundaries and Limits

It’s painful to see a couple on a date who are both on their individual cell phones or a mother strolling her baby choosing to talk at length to a friend on the phone while ignoring the coos and excitement of her baby. The internet becomes an intruder, quietly demanding attention with a chirp or a ping.

Set examples of boundaries with your whole family—no cell phones at the dinner table; charge phones at a family charging station outside of the bedrooms; limit phone use; be conservative about posts. Establish a reasonable time that cell phone and internet use should be put to bed and discuss how you might let friends know that “it’s too late to call.”


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. It is OK to make a deal—“You can use the internet if I have your password.” “In order to have the privilege of using your phone, I need the 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 is called parenting.

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 “intel” on what parties are going on, what kids are likely causing trouble, 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 (and vice versa) 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.

Parent Reflections

  • 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 language 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. 

Log In or Sign Up to leave a comment!

    Comments: 0

Don’t Miss Out

Join the Zift community and get all the latest news and our exclusive content delivered straight to your email.