3 Tips for Parents of Teens on Social Media
As a Youth Pastor I have conversations with parents of students on a regular basis surrounding the topic of social media. The number of apps, different controls, and social pressure for students has created a very complex set of issues and conversations for families to navigate (we’ve come a long way since I created my first MySpace account! Thanks, Tom). To make it all more complex, everything is changing so rapidly that it can be hard to keep up with. My goal in this post isn’t to make you an expert on every new app or phone feature, but rather to provide you with some helpful tips for navigating social media with your students.
1. Have a Good Knowledge Base
If you haven’t figured it out yet, there are a TON of apps and social media platforms for students to access. The most well-known examples include Tik-Tok, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, ClubHouse, etc. But this only scratches the surface of apps that students use on a consistent basis. While many mainstream apps require age verification (which is there for a reason), there are many that do not which can put kids and teens at risk. All of this can feel overwhelming, but it is also an opportunity to learn and have dialogue with your kids while researching what is currently trending on social media. Simply put – it’s time to do some homework!
For a list of apps that are currently trending among students and kids in 2021, check out this article from familyeducation.com
2. Have a Discernment for when to Increase Responsibility
Okay, you’ve armed yourself with some knowledge on the apps that are out there and trending currently – now what? It’s time to put your knowledge into practice. While there are some apps that I don’t think students and kids should ever be allowed to have, there are many others that I think students can have access to as they mature and develop.
Think of it this way: when I was shopping for my first car, I really wanted a Mitsubishi Eclipse. They were fast and relatively affordable, and some friends I knew at school had one. I remember showing my Dad a picture of one on Craigslist, and he immediately said “that’s too much car for you, keep looking”.
Was I frustrated at the moment? Yes. Was my Dad right? Also yes. The moral of the story? Not every kid is ready for the same thing at the same age, and when they’re ready there needs to be a conversation and evaluation by their parents.
When we think through the conversation of social media, some kids will be ready for certain layers of responsibility before others. When I have conversations with parents around this topic, a common thread I pick up on is a desire “to not want to be the bad guy” or to “not have their student be left out”. Let me just say that the tension you feel is real, and parenting in today’s day and age is perhaps more complicated than in prior years. But I do believe that as we seek to do what’s best for our kids, we can find encouragement in the Scriptures:
“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
As you set boundaries for your kids, it won’t always be easy. There will be pushback and social pressure. But in the long run, I believe that God will produce “a harvest of righteousness and peace” in your life and your kid’s life. We just need to trust him in the process and stand firm.
3. Have Open, Grace-Filled Conversations
As your child matures and develops, they will make mistakes when it comes to their social media usage (a lot of adults still make mistakes on social media, but that’s another post for another time).
It’s a question of when, not if, they make a mistake with social media – the questions we need to ask ourselves are “how will we respond?” and “do my kids feel like they can talk to me about social media?” when that moment eventually happens.
A great starting point is to begin having regular, open dialogue with your kids now about their social media usage today, not tomorrow. Explain the boundaries you have in place and the reasons why, and allow them to process with you. Ask them about their social media apps and habits, who they’re messaging, etc, and you’ll probably learn a lot! When you establish a safe-space early on, the conversations will become easier as they develop and mature.
Parenting your kids through social media isn’t easy, but always remember that you’re not alone. If your kids have friends, those friends have parents, and those parents are navigating the same conversations! Surround yourself with a community of support, bounce ideas off each other, and you’ll find that the weight is easier to carry when you carry it with others.