Social Media Etiquette Rules for Teens

Category: Social Media

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Let’s be honest. If we took just a second to ask ourselves the question: “should I really post this?” many of our tweets, Instagram photos, Snaps or Facebook posts just might never leave our phone. Much of social media etiquette for kids and adults is really about taking that extra moment to ask ourselves three questions:

  • Is this the right time and place to be focused on my social media?
  • How would I feel if someone posted this about me?
  • What would my teachers, parents, or co-workers think of me if they saw this post?

Why Teens Need Social Media Etiquette

A recent study states that 70 percent of teens report that they use social media multiple times a day, with phones and tablets finding their way onto dining room tables and other once disconnected family moments. Because of this widespread social media use, it’s important to teach teenagers to learn that social media does not take priority over current face-to-face conversations, family time, bedtime, homework and school.

As a parent, it’s crucial to model good behavior with your own phone habits, so mute it, silence it, or turn it off at the appropriate times. After all, how can we preach about good social media etiquette unless we start by addressing our own habits?

To help get you started, here are a few helpful guidelines to get those etiquette manners started for your teen’s journey into social media.

Need more etiquette tips for your kids? Read The Importance of Teaching Your Children to Say Hello from Clise Etiquette.

It’s All About Communication

While we may be connected to everyone through our phones, it can be easy to get immersed in them and forget that certain actions should happen in person. Let your kids know that just because smartphones are a means for communication doesn’t mean that they should replace all forms of communicating with one another.

  • Don’t have a relationship conversation via texting. Have that conversation face-to-face. And don’t text when you’re angry – you may regret what you say.
  • Don’t use texting shorthand or slang in professional letters, emails, or in papers for school.
  • Don’t answer your phone call or notifications while in class, in meetings, while driving, or in a movie theater.

Ask Permission Before Posting

Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. On a recent family vacation, I took a picture of my son and began posting it. He asked me not to and we then went back and forth as to how cute it was to me and how embarrassing it was to him. It wasn’t a mean or compromising picture, but I needed to heed my own advice: ask permission before posting.

  • Be kind in your posts.
  • Be respectful of others’ posts, even if you don’t agree with them.
  • Avoid overt bragging in your posts. Social media depression or anxiety is more and more common – leading to people feeling as if they are missing out when viewing others’ posts.

What Would My Coach/Teacher/Boss Think?

In a fun moment, it’s sometimes hard to use discretion when posting a great picture, but kids and adults alike should take just a second to think about the wisdom of your post. Don't post pictures of yourself or others unless you mind them being shared with everyone and be very selective of what you upload. When in doubt, have someone else review it before you post. 

Remind teens that if they wouldn’t want their parents seeing it, they shouldn't be putting it on the internet. If it's a friend's photo, ask if their parents would want that photo posted. If the answer is no, then don't publish it. Remember: Everything you post online can be made public and is traceable if you’ve published it, even if you’ve deleted it.

Educate your kids that when they post things online, they're creating a digital footprint that can follow them throughout their academic career and personal life.

  • Future employers and university admissions counselors search the internet for additional information about their applicants.
  • Stay positive.
  • Avoid offensive jokes and bad language.
  • Avoid highly emotional content or rants about personal issues or relationships.

6 Tips for Teens and Social Media

Navigating the in-roads into your teen’s life is like navigating a mine field and social media can make that a rocky road for some. 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. Safeguards are 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.
    Including your teen in this larger conversation makes them part of the family safety rather than feeling like the victim of a limit they do not understand. Include them by asking, “What kinds of safeguards do you think we each should put on our devices?”
  3. First Things First
    Ice cream for dinner and skipping vegetables may sound like a good idea to kids, but over time it will lead to poor nutrition. Such is the case with screen time. Too much screen time decreases their face-to-face interaction, limits their ability to collaborate and replaces nuanced in-person social cues.

    Help your family balance screen time and think about when it is necessary in your family’s day and when it’s not. Rather than making screen time a reward for good behavior, think about making it a game your family can enjoy together. 
  4. Create Boundaries and Limits
    The internet can easily become a distraction, demanding your teen’s 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 or text.
  5. Make Sharing Passwords a Necessity
    Unlike adults who might try and write them down in a reasonable spot, kids keep changing their passwords 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, though, and balance our teen’s privacy with the need for safety. Snooping just to snoop is not honorable. Checking up on our kids because we are concerned about their safety, however, is called parenting. Advise them to use a mixture of uppercase and lowercase letters in their passwords, as well as special characters. Learn more about creating safe passwords for kids and consider using a social media contract to keep track of which platforms your kids are on and note their passwords.
  6. Establish a Village
    Parents learn a lot from other parents, so inviting your peers to be part of your village is a good idea. Some parents have inside info on what parties are going on, which 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?

Advancing technology is exciting, but it also has its drawbacks for families. Social media etiquette and safety is an important conversation to have again and again as your child grows through each developmental (and technological) phase.

Need more tips? Read 10 Things My Tween Daughter Should Know Before She Posts.

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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