What happens when one of your kid's friends is doing something inappropriate with social media or the Internet? Having that "uncomfortable conversation" may not be fun, but looking out for each others' kids is good for all of us as parents.
Kids deal with small conflicts every day - it’s part of growing up. But for today’s “always-on” digital natives, there are additional layers of complexity. Constant connectivity complicates their social sphere. Here’s how you can be a good mentor and teach conflict resolution to your own digital natives.
Romance, Love, and Crushes in the Digital Age
Pew Center for Internet and American Life is one of my favorite sources of useful data on how kids and families are using technology. In October 2015, they released a study showing that, (surprise!) kids are still falling in love, getting crushes, getting mad, getting even, etc.
So things haven’t changed…that much. But for those parents who worry about the new added complications of technology on dating life, I have some good news: at least in 2015, most kids were not actually meeting or “hooking up” with other people online.
It may feel like dating has moved entirely to the Internet, but according to the Pew study, only 8% of all American teens have met a romantic partner online. Though we see a few young people are using Tinder, Grindr and other “hookup” apps, these are supposed to be only used by those eighteen or older. Also, as one mother of a 9th grader told me, despite the racy implications, her son started a “traditional” dating relationship with a girl he met via Tinder. In this day and age, “traditional” meant that she drove her son to a bookstore café to meet the girl in person for the first time while she waited outside. Since then, this particular mom has met the girl’s parents, and have gotten together to go out to the kids’ basketball games and to one another’s school plays. While the kids live 20 minutes apart in different suburbs–and might not have otherwise met–their relationship itself does not seem different to his mother than if they had met at a swim meet or debate tournament.
Connection, Connection, Connection
Once teens or tweens are involved romantically, their expectations are surely affected by the availability of constant connection. This is directly in parallel with the changes in expectations in our own adult relationships. For example, my husband and I were dating before we had cell phones, and our expectations for being in contact (while far lower than these teenagers!), are still more frequent than they were before we had these devices with us at all times. Fully 85% of young people surveyed, expected to hear from their partner at least once a day. 11% expected to hear from their partners once an hour!
Teens are just getting used to all the physical and emotional changes that come with puberty and one of those is the infatuation with others their age. While in the past, flirtatious exchanges were confined to lunch and the occasional movie, today every couple can keep in never-ending contact via the phone in their pocket. When talking to your child, remind her that even though she can reach out to her crush at all times does not mean she has to. It’s okay not to text.
On the other hand, flirting, dropping hints, and trying to figure out how mutual an interest or crush is (age old preoccupations) has moved more into the digital realm. In the PEW study, 50% of teens reported that they used Facebook or other social media platforms to flirt or express romantic intentions. While they still may prefer to meet at school or through friends, social media is often times where they feel comfortable discussing their feelings.
Breaking up is Still No Fun
On the other end of the “feelings” spectrum, kids are negotiating both breaking up relationships and fending off unwanted attention in both the traditional ways (face-to-face, phone) and the digital realm (social media, texting, email). The PEW study reports that 25% of all teens have unfriended or blocked someone on social media because that person was flirting in a way that made them uncomfortable Perhaps, not surprisingly, Teen girls are more likely to receive uncomfortable flirting online with 35% reporting they’ve had to unfriend or block someone, more than twice as many as the 16% of boys who have had to do the same.
Talk to your kid
Ask your kid how other kids in their school and community ask other people “out” or to become involved. What are the local customs? If your are concerned about harassment, one way to open the door to conversations about these kinds of experiences is to ask your child if she or her friends has ever had to block someone for coming on too strong–or being too persistent. Make sure she knows that this behavior is unacceptable and that she doesn’t have to put up with it. If the behavior doesn’t stop by un-friending or blocking the perpetrator, contacting the school–or the authorities–may be necessary.
Most of what we know about dating for young people in the digital age should remind us to have empathy for kids…learning to deal with romantic feelings towards other is as awkward, terrifying and exhilarating as it ever was!
“Teens, Technology and Romantic Relationships.” Pew Research Center Internet Science Tech RSS. 01 Oct. 2015. Web. 31 Jan. 2016.
I just had a chance to have a conversation with Annie Fox, M.Ed, the host of Family Confidential: Secrets of Successful Parenting. I’ve been a fan of Annie’s parenting expertise and youth mentoring for many years, so I was honored to be invited to be a guest on her podcast.
Highlights: What Makes a Good Friend?
Annie and I spoke about how you can use social media as a locus for talking with your kids about friendships, what makes a good friend and how to deal with conflict and change in relationships.
And how can parents help their kids be good friends in these interactive spaces?
How can we help our kids have high enough expectations of their peers?
We don’t want our kids to tolerate mean or thoughtless treatment as a matter of course…
Here’s the video (below). Just press the play button to view.
Some of the highlights: Find Clarity Through Boundaries
We talked about how helping your child identify positive boundaries is important.
- When she has friends over, it is OK to expect the friend to hang out with you and not spend the whole time on the phone!
- Another important boundary that we can help our kids express to their friends is that they can’t be available 24/7. Kids need to know that they are not being rude if they don’t respond to a status update or text when they are supposed to be sleeping or doing homework.
- Or, as Annie pointed out, when they are out on their bike and prefer to ignore the buzz in their back pocket.
Finally, we discussed the perennial question: How do I know my child is ready for a cellphone.
Hint: It is not a certain birthday… Their skills, responsibility and need for independence (for example to travel around the community on their own) are the most relevant criteria.
It was so much fun talking with Annie. If you are on a roll an want to see all my podcast appearances ever, you can check them out here.
Please let me know your thoughts on these approaches to nurturing our kids social skills or share additional questions you’d like me to cover in a future podcast in the comments.
In the last few years, since founding Raising Digital Natives, I’ve been working with parents, teachers and students at schools around the country. I was asked to work with a large group of students a few years ago, and I called in a trusted colleague, Karen Jacobson, a school counselor with lots of great experience counseling kids around digital age challenges with peers to collaborate.
After the workshop, we discussed the preponderance of curricula available to educators that focus on Internet Safety, but don’t delve into the identify-focused, friendship-focused territory that we are especially interested. What is the difference between cyber-bullying and just plain mean behavior? How should kids deal with witnessing their own exclusion in social media? How can kids repair when they make mistakes? How can they avoid conflicts when texting? We decided that we should write a curriculum to share our ideas and exercises that focus on the social/emotional side of growing up in the digital world. Youthlight Press released our curriculum this spring! We’ll be speaking about it at a couple of upcoming conferences. My favorite thing to do with the curriculum is visit a school, lead the students in some of the lessons with counselors, advisors or other mentors sitting in, and then make a plan with those mentors for the work to continue.
We are delighted that Marti Weston, an expert in educational technology integration and digital citizenship has reviewed our curriculum in her blog Media, Tech, Parenting!
Weston writes: “With its flexibility and its focus on adults as connected world coaches and mentors (not lecturers), Connecting Wisely stands head and shoulders above many other curricula in this category.”
As an experienced educator, Weston makes a case for our curriculum to be integrated into curriculum, as opposed to being taught separately. This is exactly our intention with the curriculum. These values and ideas can be woven into both school and extra-curricular activities and should not be segregated into an “Internet Safety” or “Digital Citizenship” silo.
Weston concludes: “If a goal is to make it clear to today’s digital natives that we expect them to carry out positive and respectful values wherever they work and play, we need to take the time to develop a strategy that reinforces those values everywhere they work and play. Connecting Wisely in the Digital Age is a book and a tool to help us get started.”
A common refrain that I hear from parents that today’s kids “have no regard for privacy!” Their evidence? A teenager’s “rant” on Facebook. An inappropriate divulgence via Twitter. A photo that would be better deleted than shared.
I still remember walking home from 7th grade when a friend said she hated her parents. I had never dared to think something like that, let alone say it aloud. I rolled it around in my head. As I got to know her, I realized she had good reason to be deeply angry with her folks. But communicating her truth to me was private and profound. Now consider the same message, but this time, conveyed via social media. “I hate my parents” could easily be taken as light-hearted or a joke—or it could be much more serious than that.
The fact is that these two “social spaces” are vastly different. The issue is not that kids don’t have a sense of privacy, but instead a lack of understanding about how to manage each one of these terrains. Teaching kids how to manage these distinctions is tricky.
All of this centers around a strong set of values—which parents and other mentors, can model for kids. The new world of social media does mean we all get to ignore our values, but it does require us to help young people navigate how their ideas get filtered and shared through these new means of communication. For instance, you have a sense of when it’s OK to resolve an issue via e-mail, but you also understand when it’s best to have a face-to-face discussion. The issue for kids is no different at its core—it’s just the medium that’s different. The challenge for you lies in the nuances of each communication mechanism, be it Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. Stick to your core values. It is OK to emphasize things such as loyalty, but show your kids the difference between the the ways we communicate.
Take for example a situation where you are angry with a friend. You need to vent. You call another friend of yours and do just that. You unload all the details. You feel better. Yes, there’s a risk in this—the “venting” conversation might get back to the first friend. But imagine how different that would be if you instead vented about your friend on your blog or Tumblr—and she discovered the post 3 weeks later? The issue may actually have been resolved in person by now—but social media will “remember.” For all intents and purposes, it’s a permanent record—even though it feels ephemeral.
This is incredibly challenging for kids to understand. So what can you do?
- Set a social media policy for your family, what can be shared and not shared. Talk about it directly.
- Walk through hypothetical situations, using real friends and family. That way, your kids will understand it in the context of real empathy and real emotions.
- Have your kids look for and point out to you things that their peers are doing “wrong.” This will get them to cast a critical eye on social interactions, using real examples. It gives you a good sense of their judgement.
- If your child does complain about you on social media, DON’T return the favor. Criticizing your child in your own social media posts is always the wrong way to go. Don’t shoot your child’s laptop. Do explain why airing this kind of grievances publicly is NOT a good way to resolve family conflict. Look for alternate ways to re-establish trust and communication.
In the comments, please share your experiences with kids and privacy. How do you teach your kids, or your students to understand what to share, where to share and how to communicate their thoughts and feelings with regard to their own privacy as well as privacy for others.
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I just returned from speaking at SXSWedu. I had an incredible time—what an experience. SXSWedu is unlike most education conferences because of the diversity of speakers and attendees. There were app developers, policy experts, publishers, school leaders, teachers, students, and activists all at the same conference in Austin, TX. Not quite as huge as the Interactive and Music festivals that follow, but large enough that it could feel overwhelming at times, or at least cause twinges of the “fear of missing out.” Luckily, my interactions and experiences were so engaging that I had little time to consider what might be happening elsewhere at the same moment. I can’t possibly do justice to my whole experience, nor will I try to make you hungry by detailing all the amazing tacos I ate in Austin. But here are a few of the conversations that I got to dip into that will inspire my writing, speaking, and consulting going forward.
There were a significant number of people who share my obsessions: 1) empathy in the digital age; 2) thoughtful digital citizenship; and 3) parent engagement with educational technology innovation. I was privileged in that my talk was one of the very first sessions of the conference. My Future 15 talk, “This is Their Hearts on Smartphones” offered an update on my TEDx from earlier this year. Afterwards, I got to meet some inspiring people, whom I know I’ll be talking to and learning from again.
I’ve been dying to meet Carl Hooker since we got to work with some other great folks on webinar on engaging parents with edtech. (Free and archived here). Carl and I talked about the huge need for parent support in teaching digital citizenship, professional development for teachers, and student workshops. I got to see him do his incredibly relevant and hysterically funny workshop on parenting in the 21st century called, “Raised by Siri.” Getting to compare notes and strategize about doing this work with a like-minded educator like Carl filled me with inspiration and excitement.
I was also thrilled to encounter Jessica Millstone, a brilliant fellow digital citizenship expert I’ve been hoping to meet for years! She’s at Brain Pop, one of my favorite ed tech companies. We got to chat at a EdTechWomen’s lovely meetup for women in educational technology where we enjoyed hors d’oeuvres, skyline views, and the company of smart women who develop, consult, and innovate in the world of ed tech.
After my talk, I also met Professor Nick Bowman—and I got to attend his panel as well. He’s a professor in the Communication Department at West Virginia University, researching how individuals construct their relationships with social media. I can’t wait to hear more about his research and to share some data here. As a former professor of Media Studies, I love to catch up with academic colleagues to hear the latest in the field.
Privacy vs. Parents: Diving Into the Controversies
SXSWedu has been the site of controversial discussions about privacy in the past, so it was great to hear from experts about the latest recommendations for best practices. Two years ago at SXSWedu, the controversial student data collection/analysis repository inBloom was a major presenter. Parents around the country were very concerned about how inBloom might use and share student data. Ultimately, pushback from concerned parents caused inBloom to close. This story is the perfect cautionary tale of educational technology NOT meeting parental concerns—exactly the kind of breakdown I am working to address.
Since my parent engagement work helps schools understand parental concerns better, this erosion of trust between parents, schools, and policy makers is very instructive to my work. So you can imagine that I was very excited to dive into discussions of privacy at SXSWedu, including a summit on Privacy and Student Data.
It was at this summit that I caught the latest research from Pew Researcher Amanda Lenhart. The Pew research on the “Internet and American Life” is one of the sources of data I share most frequently in my parent talks. Amanda Lenhart presented updates from Pew’s studies of teenagers. One key data point is that teenagers “do take steps to actively manage their reputations online.” Based on my own conversations with young adults, I find this to be true as well—and use it to reassure the parents and teachers with whom I work.
Meeting app/curriculum designers in person
One of the best reasons to go to SXSWedu was to meet people who research, develop, create, and market the tech tools used by students and educators with whom I work. I had a great time at Edutopia’s party chatting with Ronnie Burt from EduBlogs, a tool that allows students to blog and share their experiences—and Henry Lyford from Edmodo, a collaborative tool used by numerous schools that I’ve worked with. I learned so much from them about how they incorporate teacher and student feedback into their work! Getting to talk to app creators is such a great chance to learn about the feedback process, and to see how important our experience as everyday users is to these companies.
On the empathy front, I was delighted to meet Rachel Zindler and Hannah Rosenthal from Teaching2gether, a new organization that is doing some amazing work around inclusion and rethinking special needs education. Teaching2gether did a great session that helped educators feel empathy for all of their different learners by offering simulations of various learning differences and physical disabilities so educators could experience how they would impair engagement in a typical classroom. The experiential strategy made for great conversations and allowed the audience to engage at a much deeper level than is typical for a panel presentation.
At this session, I met another app designer: Michele Walker, a guidance counselor and mother who created the app Choiceworks to help her own quirky kids thrive in school and at home. Since I use Choiceworks at home, Michele is a hero to me!
Finally, as a co-author of a brand-new curriculum, it was exciting to meet Andrea Lovanhill, who works with the highly regarded anti-bullying curriculum, Second Step. I loved that we met on an escalator and she took the time to have a quick lunch with me so I could learn more about Second Step.
Overall, experiences like this left me feeling like the trek to SXSWedu was highly worthwhile. So many great people were willing to talk and engage—it was an honor to be on the program and get to share my work in such smart company. This post only describes a fraction of the encounters and fantastic conversations I had at SXSWedu. I look forward to continuing the conversations and collaborating with my digital citizenship comrades in the very near future!
I just wrapped up working with a great group of 7th and 8th graders and wanted to share their ideas so that you can use them with kids (and adults) that you know!
If you ask a group of kids if they ever felt left out when they see images or videos posted in apps like Instagram, Vine or Snapchat, they will have a lot to say. Each of these apps can include images and videos of groups of other friends that may not include the viewer.
When I posed this question to this group, the middle schoolers all said that this happens all the time—and can be hard to deal with. They all agreed that it is better not to lie or make excuses if you are busy with one group of friends and another friend wants to hang out. Better to say, “I have plans” than to lie and say, “I have too much homework,” and then share images of yourself at spending time with other friends.
I asked them if they think kids post images with the intention of making others feel excluded. Most of the kids were reluctant to admit it—they’ve been on both sides of this issue. One boy suggested that other kids post pictures in the moment without really thinking about it.
One girl said that even if she is invited but can’t go, “I can feel pretty jealous and even mad that I am not there. How can they be having such a great time without me?” Ouch. This is a great insight into the complicated digital lives of today’s kids.
One student described the experience of vicariously experiencing a pool party that included many people in her class. As an alternative to watching the pictures roll in and feeling terrible, she invited two other friends—who had also been left out—to her house. They watched movies and did some baking. Good strategy!
Working with my Connecting Wisely Curriculum, I challenged students to come up with some strategies for this scenario: You are looking at your phone and see Instagram pictures of your friends or acquaintances hanging out without you—or a party you weren’t invited to. These were some of their suggestions:
- Watch some Netflix
- Eat some ice cream
- Call some other friends to invite them over
- Don’t watch—put away your phone!
- Hang out with your family
They were able to admit that if they had other friends over, it might be tempting to take and share pictures. When I asked why she would share pictures at all, one girl said that she wants to “show that she has a life outside of school.” Another kid said, “it is fun to share when you are doing fun things.” Other kids pointed out that social media is a way to mark the moment and preserve memories.
Putting away your phone is a great idea. Making a choice not to ruminate over your exclusion is a huge step towards empowerment!
I asked the kids, “do you think people just shouldn’t share images of events that exclude people,” and they all said, “NO! people have a right to share.” One girl clarified that, “one is OK, two is a bit much, and three or more pics from the same event starts to be obnoxious.”
As always, kids have great insight and come up with creative solutions. With a little mentorship from parents, teachers, and other group leaders, kids will help co-create the new guiding principles of social media etiquette.
These exercises above (and more!) are in my new curriculum guide that I co-authored with Karen Jacobson. It’s full of challenging and fun activities to help kids think about and manage the new and ever-changing issues of the digital world. While it’s pitched towards teachers and group leaders, parents could get a lot out of it too. It’s called Connecting Wisely & Well in the Digital Age: Social Emotional Exercises For Plugged in Kids, and you can find it here.
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One of my favorite parts of Raising Digital Natives is presenting to parent groups, teachers and administrators. Frequently, parents and teachers share their experiences with me, so I learn as much as I teach. Being exposed to the concerns parents and teachers have about kids in the digital age is extremely informative and valuable to shaping the the ways Raising Digital Natives can help families and schools.
For educators, this list offers a helpful orientation to parent concerns that you may wish to address directly in your parent engagement communication. Here are some more ideas for how educators can respond to parent concerns. I’ve collected some of these common concerns from recent conversations with parents.
See if you identify with any of these concerns:
- How much “screen time” is too much?
These days, it seems children never get a break from technology. Whether at school or at home, for work or for play, there’s always a screen in the room. But at what point do the harms of digital devices outweigh their benefits? When is it time to disconnect?
- How much video game time is too much?
Kids love their video games. If left alone, many kids would have no problem at all spending an entire day building and exploring on Minecraft. While this type of gaming does have its benefits, most adults will agree that a day-long gaming marathon is excessive.
- Are social skills at risk?
Sometimes, kids will choose playing with a computer over playing with their friends. While gaming can be social, is this damaging to their socialization? Does excessive screen time cause kids to miss out on learning how to deal with important social scenarios? How harmful is the lack of real, face-to-face interaction to their social development? In Chapter five of my book, Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive and Survive in Their Digital World, I address the idea that empathy is the app and that kids can learn to consider the people they game with or share social networks with in thoughtful ways.
- How do you ensure safety on the Internet?
It’s no secret that the Internet is chock-full of content that is not appropriate for children. Younger children may be unaware that this type of content—as well as more serious online dangers—exist, they also may not know how to avoid them. How do you protect your children and stay Web-safe without infringing on their browsing privacy?
- Is traditional learning at risk?
When tablets replace notebooks in the classroom, opportunities for digital learning are arguably limitless. However, perhaps children do benefit from old-school, pen-and-paper techniques. By eliminating the traditional methods of teaching, are their developmental learning tools suffering in some way?
- How can a child focus with so many distractions?
“But I need my computer to do homework!” Children can’t be good students without finishing their work, often on computers and/or tablets. But computers, tablets, and other devices are often multi-purpose. That means that they also have games and other opportunities to connect with friends. When tempted by things more fun than homework, how is it possible to let kids use technology but still keep them focused? In Screenwise, I share how to co-create solutions to distractions, while acknowledging that we ALL get distracted.
- Can kids still find fun without technology?
Are the days of riding bikes and climbing trees entirely behind us? When video games and computers offer instant and easy distractions, what happens to the “traditional” ways that kids play? Can kids still independently find amusement, and can we trust them to find creative and productive ways to stay entertained?
- What should parents of different age groups expect?
While many of these questions persist as kids grow, oftentimes, new ones arise. Every age group uses and understands technology in different ways. What particular issues should parents of a six-year-old be concerned about, and how do they differ from those of a twelve-year-old?
- Does social media create “FOMO?”
A major cause of social stress for children and teenagers is the Fear Of Missing Out, or FOMO. Will the sad feeling of not getting invited to the birthday party be made worse by scrolling through the group selfies from the party on Instagram. How do we avoid this, and how do we deal with it if it arises? Kids talk about how to manage Exclusion in the Instagram Age in this post.
- Is the parent/teacher connection at risk?
Rest in Peace, Red Pen. With tablets replacing traditional homework methods, parent involvement almost inevitably decreases. This is a surprise to some parents—something they weren’t expecting. When it’s harder to see teacher feedback on homework, how can parents bridge that gap with educators in order to continue to help their kids in the same way? I’ve also written some guidelines for parent/teacher communication in the digital age.
Do you have other concerns about children and technology that I haven’t addressed here?
Check out my new book, Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World. Let me hear from you! I’ll be sharing solutions and strategies for each of these concerns on my blog and in the book that I’m currently writing. Would you like a free chapter of Screenwise?
Thank you, and I look forward to hearing from you!
As technologies evolve, so do the rules of etiquette. While you might be confident about teaching your kids etiquette in the real world, you may feel that it’s more of a challenge in the online world. It takes some time to learn the new rules, and they seem to change every time a new platform emerges.
As I mentioned in my last post, our kids are more isolated from adult communication today because so much of our peer communication takes place in a private, not public, setting. Email or text messages are sent and received out of “public” view, leaving fewer opportunities for kids to get etiquette cues from you—or other adults.
There’s another layer of complexity, too. Just because you exist in social spheres like your kids do, it doesn’t mean that the rules are the same for them as they are for you. So what can you do to learn the rules, together with your child?
Shrinking the scope
Where do kids learn digital etiquette? Though social media is a worldwide community (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram), kids are getting their social training in much smaller communities (home, their friends, in the classroom). In many ways, social media at home or in-class blogs are ideal spaces to learn about social media etiquette, and can serve as great training wheels. It offers an accepting environment where a knowledgeable adult can help kids understand when they make communication errors, and help kids make repairs when they offend one another or miss important cues about how to respond. A community where people interact both online and offline is a great way to learn the new rules of digital etiquette.
“Friending” is a huge pressure for kids. This pressure can lead them into making poor decisions. For instances, they often feel that they have to agree to “follow” or “like” something, even if they don’t. Kids I’ve interviewed say that they are really difficult and uncomfortable to NOT accept a Friend Request or to ask a peer to take down (or untag) a photo.
What can you do to help? To open the conversation, you can say, “I got a Facebook request today from someone I went to high school with—but we barely even knew each other.” This gives you the opportunity to let your kids know that it’s OK to ignore the request—that they have a choice in the matter. To be more prescriptive, try giving them an informal limit on the number of people that can follow them initially. Instagram works well as a model for this. This will teach them how to be selective about their social sphere.
Sharing social circles
Surprise! Your networks are already connected. You have to remember—and respect—the ways that your own network indirectly corresponds with theirs.
For example, if your 8-year-old has a crush and you think it is cute, you can share the story offline with your best friend (out for coffee, for instance) without too much risk of embarrassing your child. But if you share the same story online (Facebook or e-mail), you risk wider exposure in unanticipated ways. Not only that, but your kids are learning from your interactions. Your mistakes today could become their mistakes in the future.
What can you do to help? Ask their permission to share. Whether it’s pictures of your kids or news about them, get their permission first. It shows them very clearly that they have control over their social space. Treat anything that enters their “Friend World” as THEIRS—not yours. Even oblique references to their social dramas should stay out of your Facebook feed. Even in person, this is a good rule. It pays to respect privacy. But the online world is more volatile, and you certainly don’t want your teen’s first bra or awkward crush to be community news.
Their friends are not your friends
I can’t emphasize this enough—don’t “friend” your kids’ friends. At least don’t initiate the connection. Nothing annoys kids more than this. They need to feel some control over managing these relationships, and you don’t want to take that feeling of control away from them. But what if your child’s friend “follows” or “friends” you first?
What can you do to help? Again, ask your child directly. This can be tricky territory, so give them some control over it. Keep in mind that their world is different from yours. Some kids change friends quickly, though they don’t always dump the digital connection—even when they don’t sit together at lunch anymore. Adults can relate to this, but the pace and churn of adult relationships is generally slower. Whether or not your kid allows you to be friends with one of their schoolmates will give you an indicator of how important that relationship is—and opens a door into their world for you. For instance, if your child tells you 6 weeks from now that you should “unfriend” someone, you have clues to her social life that you wouldn’t see otherwise.
Their teachers are not your friends–or theirs
Maybe this is obvious, but don’t “friend” their teachers, occupational therapists, camp counselors, or youth group leaders. These connections belong to them, not to you. For example, your child spends 6 hours a day with her fifth grade teacher. There’s little ambiguity that your child hold the primary relationship with her teacher, even if you are friends outside the classroom.
For the most part, your child shouldn’t be connected on social media with these folks either. Do you really want to kid to see everything his karate teacher posts to Instagram?
What can you do to keep boundaries clear and appropriate? The biggest complication is when who holds the “primary” relationship is ambiguous—when your child’s guidance counselor or teacher’s aide is already your friend. Just be cautious and thoughtful.
Another note about teachers and social media: Many schools get worried that parents are discussing teachers online, or posting anonymously on Great Schools or Rate My Teachers. Sites of this type can be useful for a more honest, parent-level opinion. But comments can drift towards the extremes. And “Rate My Teacher” is feedback that is totally out of context. Consider if you would want anonymous, public rating of your work.
The bottom line: take it offline. Especially when class placements come out—talk in person. And model appropriate boundaries and non-gossipy behavior for your children.
Being “friends” with your teen
The best way to help your child manage these issues is to be close to her—in the same spaces. But if your teen agrees to “friend” you, (or if you make this a condition of being on social media) take this show of trust very seriously, and be a good friend. Don’t make yourself too present. Don’t be seen or comment too often. Don’t share their news before they do (or at all.) Don’t be surprised if they find it “creepy” that you brought up something that they shared, even though it was public.
What can you do to help? “Like” the things you are safe to like. Or talk about it face to face. Find an opportunity to remind them verbally that you saw something on their Instagram feed, which will serve as a gentle reminder to your child that you are part of her “public.” As Danah Boyd points out, kids share to their own concept of a public, those readers, friends or followers that are on their minds at the moment—or the ones sharing a particular experience. The danger lies in that they are probably not considering their whole network every time they share. Lurk more and say less, unless of course something you see demands your attention.
Etiquette is always evolving to accommodate new communication technologies. In spite of this, we can mentor our kids to behave thoughtfully and empathetically online and offline.