Everyone is Looking at Your Child’s Social Media Accounts, Why Not You?
Look or not look? When it comes to looking at your child’s social media accounts, that’s the question most parents are asking. And, it’s a question that draws strong responses in parenting circles. Even parents in the tech industry have vastly different approaches to how they monitor social media with their teens
Parents have the right and responsibility to know what their child is doing. Part of guiding our kids as they grow is showing them how the choices they make can impact them and others. But, does that mean as parents we should have open access to all our child’s social media accounts? If so, what age is the cut-off point?
If you came here looking for a quick yes or no to “prove your point,” hang tight with me for a bit. Relationships are built on a foundation of solid, open trust and communication. So, the answer isn’t yes or no. Instead, you must answer the question of why you are looking at your child’s social media account.
First let’s look at fears we have as parents when it comes to our kids and social media.
8 Common Fears Parents Have When It Comes Their Child’s Social Media Accounts
Parents fear their child will be exposed to unhealthy horrific content.
Parents fear their child will be exposed to and pulled into pornography.
Parents fear their child will have group chats with strangers.
Parents fear their child might meet up with a person they’ve met online and put themselves in danger.
Parents fear their child will struggle with self-image issues.
Parents fear their child will struggle with balance and spend way too much time online.
Parents fear their child will post inappropriate messages or pictures of themselves or others. The fear of sexting is a part of this fear.
Parents fear their child will be bullied. Or, they fear their child will be unkind to others online.
Do any (or all) of these fears resonate with you? If so, you are not alone. These fears are the realities of many families today. And when social media takes a turn for the worst in a child’s life, it often gets a fair share of media coverage. So, your concern is certainly understandable.
The question to ask: Does simply accessing your teen’s social media accounts prevent any of your fears from happening?
The truth is, no.
Kids are incredibly resourceful. And most kids are tech savvy enough to find a way around their parents. And sometimes our kids are pushing and pulling with us because we don’t understand there is much more happening in their digital world.
A few ways kids can get around snooping parents:
Create secret accounts (think Finstagram)
Use an alias online-this can be done easily by setting up a 2nd email address
Block certain content from appearing on your social feeds
Block you from seeing their “Stories”
Set up accounts on platforms you don’t know
Does this mean you shouldn’t monitor your child’s social media accounts? Should you pull back 100% and let them roam the digital world with no guidance at all? No!
It means you build a relationship with your child. You talk openly with them about their digital life. You use communication as your first filter. Doing so means your child knows you are their advocate and not their adversary. They know your family is a team.
This changes the dynamic in your home. When it comes to technology and social media, your child knows they can come to you instead of hiding their digital life from you. Remember, parental controls may show you what your child is doing; it may give you a sliver of insight. But if your child isn’t communicating with you, it’s hard to understand what’s really happening in their digital life.
Remember, Communication is Your Best Filter!
So how do I teach my child healthy digital media skills without them feeling I’m hovering over their social media accounts?
You do so by continually investing in your relationship with your child. And by both modeling and discussing how to be a responsible digital citizen.
Here Are 8 Ways Parents Can Work with their Child to Help Build Digital Media Skills
1. Make discussions about social media accounts part of everyday normal conversation.
Social media is a form of communication. This new form of communication is part of our everyday life. So, make it part of your everyday discussions too. Just as you would ask your child about new friends at school, ask them about their new “friends” or “followers” online.
Remember, our children are digital natives. They don’t distinguish between their friends online and their friends IRL. That’s something digital immigrants do. Be sure your child knows you are interested in the friends they meet online.
And remember, your child won’t share any information with you if you embarrass or shame them for loving social media. You can lovingly guide your child when you see areas where there is concern for caution along the way.
2. Teach your child how to protect their digital thumbprint by reviewing privacy settings together.
It’s important that your child understands the settings for the accounts they create and use online. So before setting up any account, teach your child how to find the privacy statement and the terms of service for these platforms. Read together the statements to determine if the platform is age-appropriate and safe.
When your child sets up a new account, do it with them. This gives you the opportunity to go over the settings of the app together. This is especially important when it comes to new social media accounts as this gives you the opportunity to discuss options like creating a private account so your child’s posts and photos can only be viewed by friends/followers they approve, and blocking/reporting users.
3. Show interest in your child’s online activities.
Ask your child about their favorite websites, social media platforms, games, and friends they meet online. Your child’s online activities should be treated with the same level of excitement and care you would treat activities they do offline.
Best of all, this gives you the chance to get to know who they are connecting with online.
Be your child’s friend online. But, just as you give your child space to entertain their friends in your home, give them some breathing room online. It’s perfectly acceptable to view their online activity. However, you don’t need to comment on every photo and post.
In fact, doing so will likely cause your child to move to another social media platform. Or, feel the need to hide posts from you.
4. Discuss what to do if they have a negative experience online.
The best parental controls and privacy settings can’t guarantee 100% that your child isn’t going to run across content online that’s inappropriate, gory, or disturbing. The truth is, your child is likely to run across content that you desperately hope to protect them from. The more time they spend online, and the more social media accounts they have, the more chances for exposure.
This means you need to have a foundation of communication in place and a clear plan of action for your child should they ever come across inappropriate, disturbing, or pornographic content. Be sure your child knows they can come to you any time.
Reaffirm this to them often. Then, be a calm steady support for them when they do reach out to you for help.
5. Talk openly and honestly with your child about your own experiences on social media.
There are years between you and your child. And you might feel you struggle to understand many of the popular apps your teen loves. But remember, your child’s greatest worry and struggle is not the digital platform. It’s communicating in a public space. And that space is now networked.
These are issues you most likely can relate to. Talk about what you love and loathe about social media with your child. Share struggles you’ve had and tell your child how you’ve overcome them. Share mistakes you’ve made and tell your child how you moved past them. It’s a great way to bond with your child.
6. Use a Family Digital Media Agreement
Parenting isn’t always easy. It seems culture has somehow twisted things and made us feel as if a smartphone is a need for our kids. And while there might be times when a child needs a mobile phone for safety, a smartphone with access to apps and social media isn’t a right, it’s a privilege.
Your child needs to show they are ready for the responsibility of having a social media account. And, it’s helpful for kids to understand the expectations and boundaries. Having a family digital media agreement also gives your child the opportunity to share their thoughts and concerns when it comes to content that is posted about them online.
Home should always be a safe place for everyone in the family.
Be sure to discuss things like device down times, cut-off times for media in the evenings, behaviors that are and are not allowed (rude comments to others, sexual photos, etc.). Make sure your kids understand what happens if boundaries are crossed.
Looking for family digital media agreement ideas?
Check out my Family Digital Media Agreement.
7. Discuss netiquette.
Just like we teach our kids good etiquette, our digital world now means kids need to understand the guidelines for good behavior online, or netiquette. We need to raise kids who are respectful digital citizens. And parents, it starts with us!
In addition to digital manners, teach your kids how to balance technology into their everyday lives, and yes, this includes social media.
Teach them how to use technology in ways that are healthy and positive. Teach them our devices and the apps we use are tools which help make our days more productive and our communication better. And, when we begin to see negative effects from the technology we are using, we step back and evaluate.
8. Discuss what to post and fun digital skills your child can do online.
We spend so much time telling our kids what not to post online. We stress how their digital footprint will follow them throughout life. And, while we do need to let our kids know that colleges and potential employers may very well look at their social media accounts, we should spend much of the time we have with our children discussing what they should be doing online.
And, we need to encourage them to learn digital media skills they’ll need for the future. When kids know all the great things they can do online, they have less time to waste getting into trouble.
This all sounds great. But my child has things in their digital footprint that we wish weren’t there. How do we move forward from here?
First, does your child understand what they posted poses a potential issue? And, are they concerned about getting their digital footprint cleaned up? If so, a social media audit can help.
Most businesses do social media audits to make sure they keep their social media profiles on track. And social media audits are absolutely recommended for older teens and college students. Best of all, your child will gain some valuable insight and some social media savvy while working with someone and going through their social media accounts.
Need a social media audit?
Does your child seem to be at odds with you over the content they posted? Do they see it as “not a big deal?” If so, this is where your family digital media agreement is helpful. Take it out and go over it with your child. Implement restrictions if necessary.
It might mean a social media break for a while. It might mean you need to hover a bit more closely until trust is rebuilt. Here is where it’s good to remember your child’s smartphone and those social media accounts are privileges not rights.
During this time, keep talking to your child. Keep loving them. And, be sure to protect your child by not posting the shared family matters to your social media accounts.
A Parent’s Social Media Account Should Never Be a Place for Sharing Private Family Matters
Parenting is full of moments. Not every moment with your child is peaceful. But you can help guide them safely through the online world best when you are on the same team.
As parents, we feel like everyone is looking at our child’s social media accounts. We so desperately want them to shine. Let’s help them do so by communicating through it all, step by step.