Parenting Teens in a Virtual World (Part 2): Guidelines for Staying Safe, Steady, and Sane On-line

(Note: This is the second post in a three-part series on parenting teens in a virtual world. Click here for the first post on 8 things you can do before giving your teen access to social media. The next post will be about developing a Technology Contract with your teens.)

Do you remember what it was like when you were having your first baby? If you were anything like me, you read all the books and talked to all the people and bought all the stuff, because that’s what good parents did. But the reality was, we had no clue what we were doing! 

I will never forget the first night we brought Sarah home from the hospital. She was screaming her little head off and then doing this weird gagging thing, like a cat with a hairball. As her face turned purple, we panicked and called the nurse line, and all I could think was, “How in the world am I supposed to keep this little person alive?!” 

Parenting teens in the technology age can feel a lot like that.

It’s scary and dangerous and there are so many unknowns. It can be hard to know where to start and even harder to control. We want to protect our children and give them independence at the same time, all without causing World War III in our homes. Is that even possible?

In Part 1 of this series, we covered some things you can do before your teens enter the digital world (you can read about that here). Today I want to share some things we have learned as we’ve navigated this challenge with our teen girls over the past few years. Much of this wisdom was passed down to us from people much wiser than we are. Some of it we have figured out on our own, and some of it we are still trying to implement. 

Notice the phone in her hand!!

Please do not think we have mastered any of this! On any given day (including today), you will find us either confronting or ignoring any number of these suggestions in our own home. We have loosened our boundaries in certain areas where our girls have proven themselves trustworthy (and also, let’s be honest, where we have gotten lazy), but many of these things really are essential for the well-being of our teens. 

So I encourage you to read through this and discuss these suggestions with your teen. Hopefully this conversation will help you as you develop boundaries and expectations for your family and put together your Technology Contract (more on that in Part 3!).

The following bullet points are written as though addressing your teen; there are some additional details in the talking points section directed towards parents. This is obviously not exhaustive- feel free to add any additional suggestions in the comments!

SAFE: (Safety/Privacy)

Keep all maps & locations turned off. Always keep your privacy settings as private as possible.

Never give out (or post anything which will give out) private information, such as your full name, age, address, phone #’s, school or activity locations, etc.

Only “friend” and “follow” people you know personally very well.  Ask permission before following famous people, etc. Be careful about who you are allowing to influence you!

Never block your parents from seeing any of your posts.  If you feel the need to block them (other than for a surprise party!), chances are you shouldn’t be doing it.

NEVER agree to meet someone in person without your parents knowledge, even people you think you know well. Online traffickers are sneaky and manipulative; it just isn’t worth the risk. 

STEADY: (Integrity/Accountability)

Always ask people’s permission before you post a photo of them or tag them in a photo.

Before you post anything, stop and THINK: Is it true, helpful, inspiring, necessary, and kind?  If not, don’t post it! And don’t post anything your parents, grandparents, siblings, and youth pastor would not approve of. This includes profanity, bullying, humor at someone else’s expense, naked or “sexy” pics, etc.

If you see something inappropriate, tell your parents immediately, and DO NOT DELETE/UNFOLLOW/ETC it until your parents have seen it.  This includes negative comments, images, bullying, and more.  Please care more about doing the right thing than protecting your friends. (NOTE: Most teens don’t know you can be held legally responsible for images you receive that are not reported, not just what you send.)

Keep an updated list of all your accounts and passwords where your parents can access it. Understand that having your parents “follow” you and occasionally check your phone provides some accountability to keep you safe and help you make wise choices. 

Stay away from temptation. Don’t use the “Search” and “For You” features unless you are looking for someone specific. Don’t Facetime from your bedroom. The Bible cautions us again and again to flee temptation for good reason; just stay away.  And if (or when) you do accidentally see something you shouldn’t, tell a parent or trusted adult. It may seem like it’s no big deal, but trust me- bad things grow in the dark. Bringing it into the light will help you process your feelings and provide some accountability. 

Remember Social Media can be used for “good or evil”… be the one who uses it for good! Make the most of your opportunity to be a Light in a world that needs hope.

Sane: (Stress/Emotional Health)

Have a central charging station (not in bedrooms) where all family members, including parents, charge their phones overnight. Set a time (9pm?) for all phones and devices to be put away each night.

Limit your platforms. The temptation is to do all the things, but no one can really manage more than one or two platforms well anyway.  Choose one or two which are most useful to you and keep it at that. 

Limit your technology time. It is so easy to get sucked into the digital vortex, where 20 minutes somehow turns into 2 hours! We need time and space to rest, to be creative, and to connect with physical people. Decide now how much of your time you are willing to give away to your phone or video games, and set restrictions to hold yourself accountable.

Don’t confuse important with urgent. You don’t have to immediately answer every text/snap/DM, join every game request, or reply to every comment (even if it shows that you read it). Nor should you expect others to be at your beckon call. Respect yourself and your friends enough to give each other space without constantly taking things personally.

It’s okay to stay silent. You don’t have to tell the whole world how mad you are or how much that person hurt you. You don’t have to confront every lie or engage in every argument. Learning when to speak and when to stay silent is an important life skill- social media offers a great opportunity to develop discernment.

Know when to step away. Social media and technology affect everyone differently; if you feel stressed, angry, or sad and you don’t really know why, try getting offline for a few days. The constant comparison and desire for “likes,” “followers,” “wins,” or “kills” can create pressure without you even realizing it. Stepping away for awhile gives you a chance to breathe and reset yourself. Do this occasionally, even when you don’t feel like it is necessary, just to make sure you are mastering it instead of letting it master you. 

********************

Here are some additional talking points for parents, explaining some of these guidelines in  more detail. If all of this is new to you, take a few minutes and read through the rest of this.

Talking Points for Parents

  • Our girls started with Facebook. Since it is a platform used mostly by adults, it helped them learn not to post anything they wouldn’t want their parents, their friends’ parents, youth pastor, etc. reading. It also gave them a safe place to get their feet wet without embarrassing themselves with nerdy posts, etc. This is especially true if they are gaining access during their middle school years. My girls look back at some of the things they posted when they were 14 and are mortified (and grateful it was on FB and not Instagram where all their friends would have seen it! Ha!)
  • Encourage them to use their platform for good. There are so many ways they can be a LIGHT: texting friends who are struggling, sharing verses or encouraging posts about what the Lord is teaching them, making sure their words are kind and uplifting, confronting false ideology in love with Truth, etc. Make sure you notice when you see them doing this and encourage them!
  • Keep an eye on their followers and the people they follow. If you take the time to show them how easy it is to gather information on people with a public account, they should not argue too much on this point. But teens often feel like a friend of a friend isn’t really a stranger, and neither is that guy or girl they talked to for 3 minutes at their theater competition or baseball tournament. The people they follow have a voice in their life (this includes the “famous” people they follow). This is a great opportunity to talk about choosing wisely who we allow to influence us.
  • Hold them accountable. Just knowing their parents are going to see what they post (and what their friends comment) will provide a level accountability which helps keep them out of trouble. Require them to give you all their passwords; “like” their posts and talk to them about what they’re doing so they know you’re paying attention. 
  • Our kids know that we will both follow them on social media AND monitor their social media and texting activity from their phones. THIS IS ESSENTIAL. I don’t care how great your kid is or how much they love Jesus, follow rules, etc. It is imperative that you check on them occasionally. There is no such thing as a perfect kid, and there are all kinds of things that happen that are difficult for them to talk to us about. They need us to walk alongside them in this journey.
  • ***NOTEThis is not an opportunity for you to spy on your kid or learn all their secrets. It is more about scanning to make sure you’re not missing anything… are there signs that they are depressed or anxious, lying to their friends or you, being bullied or bullying others, etc.? And if you find something, try not to freak out! We have had to have multiple conversations with our daughters about things that we have found, and it has rarely been as bad as it seemed. Take time to pray about it before your confront anything. Often you can approach it in a way that doesn’t relate back to their phone; just bringing up the topic creates an opportunity for them to share what is going on. We need to choose our battles wisely. If we are constantly confronting them with things they post and text, it is likely they will eventually shut us out and hide their online activity from us. That is definitely not what we’re going for.
  • Limit their platforms. Seriously, as an adult I have a difficult time monitoring how much time I spend on social media. This is an even greater challenge for teens! They don’t need access to everything. Help them determine which one or two apps will best serve their purpose and limit it to that. Snapchat is extremely difficult for parents to monitor, so I don’t suggest starting with it. We showed our girls an article interviewing the creators of Snapchat in which they share how they created the app for the sole purpose of “sexting.” This was eye-opening to our girls and helped them understand why it was not something we wanted them to use. Our oldest daughter does have it now, but that came after several years of earning our trust in how she handles herself online and in real life. She shares her snaps with us… mostly they just send each other pics of half their face or with the camera looking up their nose. Not sure why that’s fun, but apparently it is…
  • Help them recognize when their connectivity is stressing them out and let them know it’s okay to step back for awhile (or for good). Some people cannot handle the constant comparison to other people’s lives or the pressure that comes with waiting for “likes.” They might find themselves feeling anxious or left out or angry; they may start being tempted to do things they don’t want to do or become someone they are not in order to fit in. If so, they need to step back. One of our girls would bring us her phone on her own every few weeks and ask us to keep it for a few days so she could have a break. She knew she needed a break, but she also knew she wasn’t strong enough to step back on her own. 
  • Beware of the Search Feature: the “Search” feature is one of the most dangerous parts of Social Media. A friend told me this was the reason her boys wouldn’t ever have Instagram, so we checked it out… within the first five minutes we saw a man expose himself, as well as a college-age girl “vlogging” in her car, who then ended up masturbating on camera! WHAT???? So we basically just explained to our girls the kinds of things they would see, that they couldn’t “un-see” those things, and that our expectation was for them to not use the Search feature (or videos/people you might like, etc) unless they were searching for a specific friend. Protective software (like Covenant Eyes) does not monitor inside apps, btw, so we basically just had to trust them. Again, we know them well enough to know that they would not really be interested in that, just like they are not interested in viewing the trash on Tik-Tok. But we still monitor and try to keep on top of whatever they ARE watching.
  • Parents, we must follow through! If we say we are going to follow their accounts or check their devices, we must actively do so. If they agree to set time limits, we must enforce them. Our teens have enough friends; they need us to be the parents!

Above all, pray. Pray for your teens- for their protection, their safety, their purity, their influence, their relationship with you, their friends, and their relationship with God. Ask the Lord to reveal anything hidden that needs to be brought into the light, and to prompt your heart when something isn’t right. Every single time I have found something in our girls’ digital life that needed addressing has been a direct result of a prompting from the Holy Spirit. Of all the things we do, prayer is the most effective tool we have in navigating these digital waters with our teens.

Do you have anything to add (to this very long post!!)? Feel free to comment! And click HERE for Part 3 on developing a Technology Contract with your teens…

3 thoughts on “Parenting Teens in a Virtual World (Part 2): Guidelines for Staying Safe, Steady, and Sane On-line

  1. I was wondering where you were going next with this. Really good guidelines here, and I’m slightly surprised that we’re doing virtually all of it – though, as you say, we aren’t 100% consistent.

    The two foundational principles for us are: No expectation of privacy and don’t post anything your mom or Nana wouldn’t approve of. The “where” thing is a key, too. I know that they still probably spend too much time on their phones (especially the past couple of weeks), but I think that having the “check in” station and limiting their time in their rooms with devices is important. For similar reasons, no TV or computer in their rooms, either. In addition to safety, I think it is about creating walls where technology can’t go. My attempt to keep their brains wired at least somehow connected with the real world.

    We’re still on the front side of it with Reagan only 12, but we are at least preparing and working on the right things. Thanks so much for sharing. Great stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Parenting Teens in a Virtual World (Part One): 8 Things to Do Before You Give Your Teen Access to Social Media | Jar full of Manna

  3. Pingback: Parenting Teens in a Virtual World (Part 3): Crafting Your Teen Technology Contract | Jar full of Manna

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s