Social networking is an ever-growing activity for teenagers. It takes up a lot of their waking hours. However, with its growing popularity, it also causes a rising concern for parents. While participating in these popular internet sites can be fun and entertaining, these same sites have proven to be dangerous and stressful for many kids. Add to this, the influence of peer pressure and you increase the possibility of this activity becoming dangerous and harmful for your teen.
Social networking offers positive benefits for some of our youth who may be shy and uncomfortable in many social settings. It may be easier to make friends when they don’t need to be face-to-face and can connect using a computer online. Another benefit is keeping a computer schedule of your teen’s activities. By posting events and activities on line, or communicating scheduling needs, teens can make arrangements more easily. And did you realize that teachers and school districts have begun using the internet to post assignments and offer class assignment instruction? The uses for social networking are expanding and probably will continue to grow in ways we haven’t even considered yet.
However, with the good comes some bad. There is concern that teens are spending so much time in cyber space visiting social networking sites that they have less time for face-to face experiences. These experiences help them learn social cues and body language that is a part of communication not found on electronic devices. This lack of ability to handle live situations comfortably can begin to cause stress in our teens as they transition into the business world and adult living situations.
If you are worried about your teen’s experience on the internet or you believe your teen is feeling stressed by this cyber situation, consider the following strategies.
1. Review the network’s privacy settings. You can set the privacy settings on each site. Monitor who has access to your teen’s information and watch how much personal information you share. On networking sites, it is common to share pictures, daily experiences and opinions, but watch sharing information about home locations, personal mail addresses and phone numbers. Check in with your teen to see that these privacy settings are updated when the sites make changes in their features. Guard your teen’s privacy so that only the information you want to be shared is shared.
2. Watch who your teen is “friending.” Teens love to be “friends” with a lot of people—many they may not even know. Since information can be shared easily through the internet, and posts can show up on many websites, make sure that the friends your teen is communicated with through social networking are trustworthy. Information shared that is meant to hurt your teen is called cyberbullying and is an activity that is growing. Lower your stress level as well as your teen’s by watching the list of friends. It is easy to “unfriend” someone who you find is not a good influence.
3. Be careful what is said online. Since information posted on these sites tends to have a permanent life, even if you delete the post in the future, be careful. The file may still exist somewhere and may be viewed by future employers checking references. Keep the stress levels down by being thoughtful about what is posted. Again, the privacy settings are not as secure as you may think, and hackers ever-present. Make certain your teen only discloses information that is safe for the public to know.
Keep your teen involved in real-life activities at school, in sports or in youth groups if you can. Limit the online social networking time for your teens. Helping your teen develop a well-rounded balanced lifestyle will help keep your teen safe and maturing in a healthy way. Constant involvement on social sites can lead to isolation from family members and local friends. It also can increase stress and anxiety.
As a parent, maintain face-to-face time to catch up on your teens daily experiences. Open communication is vital during these adolescent years and this includes finding time to discuss your own values and beliefs with your teen. As a parent, carve out time to talk as a family, either at shared meals, leisure time activities or traveling in the car.
Networking sites can be a great experience for your teen, especially if you are connecting with distant relatives and friends. But watch that social networking doesn’t become the focal point of your teen’s life. As a parent, you still need to monitor the teen’s growing independence.