In the realm of social media reality, advanced communications and anonymity behind a screen reveals a scary truth that is coming to light; restrictions from Facebook will be lifted, allowing a greater source of connectivity. The last couple of days have revealed a fact from the largest social media market – Facebook is allowing public sharing for teens who have their ages listed from 13 to 17-years-old. This source demands a greater need of communications with parents and/or guardians.
As a child of the late 70s and early 80s, permission extended to leaving the sidewalk or exploring the empty field across the street with friends. Then something happened – a marvel of communications that opened the restrictions beyond neighbors. People could connect with other individuals across the globe, in this innocent embracing of social media, a greater darkness lurked beyond the surface. The evolution of this new technology requires a change in the way parents and adults connect with their children.
Bullying has always been around, yet its exposure is more visible, because of the outlet of social media. Predators are nothing new in society, yet their visibility has considerably grown in the last decade due to the outlet of social media. The days of threatening children, issuing harsh punishments and demanding they stay in the room, seems ancient. More teens are becoming unpredictable; hiding behind the screen of anonymity online. Millions of parents are in the dark and, now more than ever, demands a line of communication between teens and their parents. What can parents do? In the arena of social and technological growth, parents can actually do plenty.
Be Real, Be a Friend and Be a Parent
Society has allowed a cushion of protection to kids. Certainly, this reporter understands homes of abuse and neglect, but that is not what this article is about. This article addresses parents who want to be involved, but do not know how to be. Too many parents fear repercussion; will the counselor at school call child services after a teen complains their parents are mean? Will their children appeal to the extremes of society showing abuse, when there is none? Many parents fear consequences and this weakness allows their teens to be exposed to dangers unknown.
Facebook is not asking teens if they have their parents permission. Be real! Stop cushioning children, stop cushioning teens. Show statistics that will scare them, because a healthy dose of fear can wake them to the realities of social media. Share stories of the past experience, allow them to talk to other teens who have experienced issues of social media and strangers. Teens should only accept friend requests from people they know personally. Advise them any messages received should be watched closely and be open with them. Teens do not like being talked down to, grab their hand, lock eyes and implore to them that communication of anything remotely weird can be shared and give your word to not share openly that information.
While teens feel a sense of invincibility on a social media site, what they post can be followed. Naming a high school in their profile for global viewing can place them in danger. There is no reason for them to tag their school and share their everyday information. Predators can watch closely and monitor that information to track them down. Be a friend by sharing some of your own experiences of bad that happened to you as a teen. Be a parent by implementing parental tools online, without advising your teen of them. Engage your teen into programs that promote bullying/stalking awareness. When informed, a teen can become a powerful resource to their peers.
Know What Tools You Have at Your Disposal
Is your teen harder to talk to? Withdrawing? Watch their habits, if they are experiencing issues and are immersed into technology devices, there are great tools for parents to turn to:
- Your mobile carrier should have a feature that allows detailed billing, you can follow a trace of phone numbers to determine if your teen is being harassed, based on a number. One parent shared, “I noticed a number texting my daughter 18 times daily, yet none of the messages were replied to by my daughter. I took the bill into her room and highlighted the received number many times and left a sticky stating ‘I love you. Your pain is my own own. I won’t push it, but I am here. You are my life.’ Three days later she came to me with tears and expressed a situation of bullying that was happening on Twitter. She is going to school online at home and the confidence now in her is amazing. Sometimes not making a big deal and instead changing the environment can do wonders.”
- Spector Pro is by far one of the most advanced parental tools. You can place it on a PC, MAC, Android, or any mobile device. It tracks everything your teen does and allows you to watch in a video playback. Sometimes accessing these parental tools are a final resort to keeping your teens safe. Reaching out to a parent group, one father admitted to using the tool, “I felt guilty at first until I caught an AIM message between my 13-year-old son and a 39-year-old male. I always got the impression my son may be gay. In this loser online he found an acceptable parental presence, but this predator had darker issues for communicating with my son. So, I reached out to a buddy of mine who had come out several years ago. He came over for dinner and told my son, ‘Your dad was the only person who accepted me, when everyone else turned their back.’ I saw the surprise in my son’s eyes – still chokes me up. It took a week, but eventually he came to me and I admitted to seeing an AIM message. Our relationship is stronger than ever. Man, love your kids, no matter what they decide for their life, seriously.”
- Teens groups are by far the most powerful tool at your disposal. Remember, the truth.org commercials that nabbed teens to stop smoking? When teens connect, beautiful things can happen. Positive reinforcements of communications and how to report shady behavior on Facebook or other social media outlets should become a team goal. Get your teens involved, this resource is simply powerful.
Demand Communication Without Saying a Word
Work, chores, school, nothing is more important than the emotional and mental wellness of your teen. Work can wait, chores can wait and even school work can wait to connect with your children. All teens go through a period of angst – this does not mean they hate you or will hurt themselves. Their bodies are changing, their hormones are in an upheaval. Sometimes being humorous releases the strain of communications. Your body language will speak more powerfully than your words. Do something unexpected for your teens – show up at an event they did not expect you to make. Buy them something that connects something close to their heart.
Speaking to a mom of five teen girls, she had great words of wisdom to share, “each of my girls has a Facebook account and each has their own e-mail account. I have strict monitoring tools in place they do not need to know about. They also think I’m pretty cool because I talk on their level. Look, I can’t just scream and run out to work. As a single mom, I have to spend time with them individually and respond to each. That meeting is honestly not more important than my children. Take a moment and find a hobby you share with each of your kids. It is the massive difference of connection or disconnection.”
Facebook and its rising exposure to teens demands a line of communication with parents. Without it, teens can start to fall into a pattern of sensitive self-awareness that can be dangerous. Once a point of trust has been met with your teens, they will eventually approach you with issues. Your teens also do not need to know you have parental tools in place. Your loving worry will not be understood by them, take measures to protect your kids. Parenting is a full-time job and the biggest priority. Technology is not going anywhere, it is only expanding. Be aware and take proactive measures to communicate with your teens. It is never too late to start. What ways, tools and techniques has been successful with your teenager?