An article published in the Washington Post in January called What Teens Wish Their Parents Knew About Social Media got us thinking: what do teens really want their parents to know about what they’re doing online?
Somewhere in between?
The article’s author interviewed teens about these very questions. But what we’re more interested in is you:
What do you want your parents to know about what you do online, and on social media in particular?
The purpose of this article is to get you thinking about those questions. And once you think about them, we encourage you to act on your conclusions. The action you take is yours to decide, of course, but right off the bat, we’d say talk to your parents about them.
Especially if you think they’re totally clueless. They’re the ones making the rules about your devices – at least they think they are. Now, if they’re making the rules, then it would probably be best for everyone if they knew what they were making rules about.
First, though, we’ll cover part of the article we found fascinating. Three things teens said they wanted their parents to know but were afraid of admitting:
- Taking away one device doesn’t keep us offline. If you take away their phone, they can access the internet via their laptop. If you take away both, they can use their iPod touch or similar devices. Remember: many these kids grew up online, and they probably know more ways to find the internet than you.
- We have dummy accounts. That Facebook or Instagram account you think you have total access to and control over? It’s common practice for teens to create fake accounts and hand the digital keys over to their parents, so they have the illusion of control. They even have names for them: a fake Instagram account is called a Finsta, whereas a real one is called a Rinsta.
- We use social media to vent. Much in the same way you – parents – might go out for a drink with co-workers and kvetch about the boss, kids take to social media to get things off their chest. Every expression of anger or sadness doesn’t require a psychiatric intervention. Teens say their social media accounts are often where they go to express themselves, commiserate with peers, and feel heard. They don’t make a big deal out of every complaint you have about life, so from their perspective, neither should you, when they let off some steam on Facebook.
Next, the author described several things teens said they wished their parents would do or wanted their parents to know about their online activity and social media use:
- Learn about the apps we use and why we use them. Teens think it would be great if parents would download and use the same apps they do. That way they could have intelligent and productive conversations about them.
- Help us control them. Though some teens have fake accounts, many don’t. And many admit peer pressure makes it tough to say “No” online when people want to follow them or become friends with them. They also have trouble “Blocking” people who make inappropriate or derogatory comments on posts. This is one place parents can help teens discern the good from the bad, and make hard choices teens can’t or don’t want to.
- Take the good with the bad. The internet itself is just a tool: it has no agenda. Nor do social media platforms: they’re simply tools we use to communicate. Teens want parents to understand some online communities are positive and empowering. Not everything is sexting and sharing nudes. Shy kids can make friends. Old friends can stay in touch despite long distances. And sometimes, teens just use social media to share things they know will make one another ROTFLMAO.
Now, let’s shift the responsibility to you: we just outlined what a major media outlet says teens want their parents to know about their online behavior. Did they get it right? Are they way off-base? Keep in mind that your parents read articles like this all the time. And unless you set them straight on the facts, they’ll think the major points in articles like these are the facts.
Are you okay with that?
If not, then it’s time to turn the tables. When your parents get home from work tonight – if that’s how things go in your family – ask them to come into the living room and sit down for an important family discussion about social media and the internet.
The looks on their faces will be priceless.
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA who writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.