The vast majority of kids and adolescents are on social media. In some ways social media creates an outlet for creativity, connection, and fun. At the same time, social media comes with some downsides, whether it’s in regard to physical safety or mental health. Rates of anxiety and depression have always been higher in the adolescent population because it truly is a formative time of life; however, today’s teens have to deal with a new aspect of reality that no other generation has had to deal with—social media.
While social media can be used well and in a healthy way, it’s important to have conversations with your teen regarding their online life. Some of the topics might feel a little awkward, but here’s the thing, we need to normalize these topics. We often teach kids how to be safe, especially girls—don’t wear ear buds in public; don’t wear your purse across your body; no, do wear it across your body; carry a rape whistle; carry pepper spray; don’t sit in your car after you’ve parked rather than going inside; cover your drink; don’t accept drinks from strangers. The list goes on and on. So, let’s start having two conversations: don’t put things in someone’s drink, “no” is not a negotiation, “no” does not mean try harder, don’t share pictures, don’t send unsolicited nudes. I think sometimes we think these things are obvious, but keep in mind, the frontal cortex doesn’t stop developing until roughly 25 years old. That’s where impulse control and analytical thought lives. Even if you think it’s obvious, talk to your teen about it.
Here’s a list of talking points to go over with your child as they start making connections on social media:
- Notice how you feel after posting something online. Are you checking frequently? Worrying what others are thinking? Do you have increased levels of anxiety?
- Learn how to manage these reactions. If it continues, consider whether that’s the right app for you.
- Never use social media as a platform to tear others down—and if you see it happening, call it out.
- Never send pictures to anyone you wouldn’t want passed around. Also, don’t pass around pictures that have been sent to you.
- Pay attention to “dark humor”. In The Gift of Fear De Becker refers to dark humor as a way of communicating what your intuition is telling you. The example he gave was when a suspicious box was delivered to an office. One of the employees made a dark joke about wanting to leave before the bomb when off. That was his gut level intuition telling him something’s not right. Teach your child to recognize these dark jokes as someone’s intuition that they’re worried about something happening.
- Only make your profile visible to people you know.
- Boundaries—especially if your child wants a public profile. Remember reverse image look ups are a thing. And it’s uncomfortably easy to download or screenshot someone else’s photo and do a reverse image search. Suddenly people know where you went hiking, what school you go to, and possibly where you live.
- Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say in person (sexting, bullying, etc.). Maybe there’s a reason you wouldn’t say it in person—maybe you’re not ready or maybe it doesn’t actually align with your values.
- Dick pics—Do NOT send pictures that no one asked for—it’s not okay. Think about it—flashing your genitals in real life is illegal.
- Sending nudes—is it objectification or sexual freedom? People will never fully agree on this topic, so everyone has to figure out their own personal stance. Where’s the line?
- If someone says “No”, then you need back off. “No” is not a negotiation. Persistence is not the answer.
- Social media is not a healthy source of connection, recognition, and attention. Pay attention to your child’s mood and functioning. It’s a big problem that all is well in a teen’s life as long as their social media life is going well, but if it’s not, then then their mood starts to tank. How a person feels about themselves should not be dependent on how things are going online.
- Here’s another thing to be cautious of—people learn what kinds of posts get likes. Girls looking too sexy for their age get a lot of likes. I’m always shocked at the number of likes people get when complaining about their neighbors on Nextdoor (that one’s for you, adults). Adventures, couples, babies, adorable pets, saying something about a hot button issue—they all get likes. What we don’t recognize is that getting a “like” is kind of like getting a reward. And getting consistent rewards after certain behaviors reinforces the behavior—that’s how you teach a dog to sit. Social media is training people to act in a certain way. Teach your kids to identify when this is happening. Teach your children to be shaped by their own developing values, not by likes. Think like a human—don’t just sit like a good puppy.
**The information contained herein is not therapeutic advice nor a substitute for therapy. It should not be used to diagnose or treat any mental health problem. If you are located within the United States and you need emergency assistance, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. If you are located within Colorado, you may also call the Colorado Crisis Line at 844-493-TALK (8255).