Laura Mazza answers Advice Needed questions twice a week, from Kidspot readers looking for help on vexing dilemmas and concerns of parenthood.
How many parents have kept their teen kids off social media and apps like TikTok? How old were they when you let them first have any of these platforms?
If you’re in need of advice, you can submit a question to Kidspot’s new Advice Needed columnist, Laura Mazza. Source: supplied.
In the summer of 1999, a 13-year-old girl went on her computer, pushed her modem button on, listened to the sweet, sweet tune of the dial-up, double-clicked on mIRC, a relay chat service, where she pretended she was 16-year-old with a photo of a model she scanned as her profile pic, and cat-fished a few guys for attention. When I look back and think about this and think of my children doing the same, I feel a bit horrified (and sad for their lack of confidence).
Fast forward to 2021, where I share my life on social media. Social media isn’t always the two-headed demon it’s portrayed to be – in fact, it’s granted me loads of opportunities and friendships. In 1920-1933, there was an alcohol prohibition. For a short period, consumption of alcohol was banned. Can you believe that? However not too long after, people’s intake subsequently increased and alcohol became more dangerous than ever to consume. Why? Because people started doing it illegally. They did what they were not allowed to do. Why am I going off on this random tangent, I hear you ask? Think of your teenagers as citizens of the alcohol prohibition period. Social media and technology is a massive part of life now, so rather than avoiding it, we must learn to embrace it, and this is especially true when it comes to our teenagers.
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Technology is a big part of life now. Source: iStock
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Teenagers need honest conversations
As a social worker I have worked with teenagers before, teenagers who used social media and discovered the repercussions of sharing photos online. Technology is much faster than in the mIRC days and more instantaneous, which means pictures can be shared and manipulated. In this particular instance, these teenagers were told not to use social media at all. Now, I remember being a 15-year-old girl who was told not to do things and you know what I did when I was told not to do them? I did them in secret and I did it dangerously. Teenagers don’t need metaphors like prohibition or milkshakes to explain things, they need honest conversations.
Have honest conversations with your teens. Source: iStock
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“Your house your rules”
Kids also don’t see themselves as young and irresponsible, but YOU are the boss, and this is your damn house and you raised those kids, so there are rules and they must adhere to them. First, social media is a privilege to use, what you say goes. Your house your rules. Some rules you can consider that work well are:
1. No devices in the bedroom after a certain time or at all. This is where the magic of naked photos happens. And look if I’m being honest, you can’t really avoid the nude photos, at some point in their life your child is going to take a picture of their ass cheeks, even if they’re 35 when they do it. So explain to them that pictures can be shared, manipulated, to send them only to who they trust, avoid showing their face, and if they find out that someone is sharing them without their consent, tell them that they can feel safe to tell you. In the same breath, tell them that sharing photos without consent is illegal and explain the consequences to that.
2. Time limits to their social media use. This is because I know my six-year-old becomes an unsociable demon child when he is on technology for too long. It’s the same for teenagers, they need to make real relationships and have real-world time.
3. Social media usernames and passwords can be shared with you. This is a tough one and really dependent on you. It can be a massive breach of trust and privacy for your teen, but really, they came out of your privacy so should they really get a say? I mean it’s up to you. But I do think you need to have a tight relationship where you can monitor what they do, whether they tell you what’s happening or they give you their passwords. This is also to avoid them getting bullied or targeted by online predators. I think a really frank conversation about those realities is a must.
4. Private information must be kept private. Self-explanatory really. Tell them not to give out their address to strangers or to speak only to people they’re familiar with. There are some dark videos on YouTube made by Police explaining the exact consequences of this, and as horrific as the story is, I intend to show my children this so they understand the exact consequences if they are not cautious with their internet use.
5. Consequences for broken rules. Just like the rules, the consequences are also yours to make up as you go. These are your children and only you can decide what is best for them. While writing this article I did a quick Google search for “Safe TikTok use,” etc. and there are loads of resources that tell you exactly how and what age is appropriate for each app, how they work, safety tips and more.
Laura and her family. Source: Instagram
Our biggest fear as parents is that our kids will speak to or meet predators or engage in inappropriate activity online. But by being honest, communicating and exploring social media with your teen, they can have a safe and happy experience online.