‘Mum, that was really awkward when you liked that photo.’
So began another lesson on social media etiquette from my teenage son. My infringement on this occasion – ‘liking’ a photo he was tagged in, that had been posted by one of his friends. Apparently that is – not cool. Liking my son’s photos is fine, but liking photos posted by others is considered unacceptable. Social media can be good. It can be nasty. It can also be a minefield for parents of teens.
Like many parents, I insisted on being my son’s ‘friend’ when he joined Facebook – to keep an eye on his activity. I quickly realised several things: teens have terrible grammar, they mostly talk nonsense on social media, and there are unwritten rules about how parents should conduct themselves on their teenagers’ social media pages.
It goes without saying that as a parent of a teenager, I am bound to be embarrassing no matter what I do. But here are a few suggestions for avoiding awkward parent moments. I have also included some of the things that parents should expect of their teens when using social media.
1. Observe but don’t contribute to a conversation on your teen’s Facebook page
Even if you are itching to correct their spelling, point out grammatical errors or offer unsolicited advice, your views are not welcome. It nearly kills me to see high school students use there, their, and they’re interchangeably. Teens also write were when they mean we’re, and ’s appears on a random basis. But I’ve learnt to just let it go.
2. It’s OK to ‘like’ your teen’s posts and pictures but there are exceptions
Social media is mostly about validation and popularity for teens (and some adults) so a ‘like’ is a ‘like’ even if comes from a parent. At that point you’re a statistic not an embarrassing contributor. But as I have mentioned, it is apparently not appropriate for a parent to ‘like’ a teen’s friend’s post. That is just awkward.
3. Don’t delve too deeply
Social media is a great place to get a glimpse of what’s going on in a teen’s life, and to learn some teen speak, but it is possible to know too much! However, if you suspect your teen has a problem, please ignore this piece of advice.
4. Avoid posting embarrassing pictures of your teen on social media
Teens are no different from adults. No one likes a bad picture being posted for everyone to see. I check with my sons before putting their pictures on Facebook.
5. Don’t try too hard to be ‘friends’ with your teen’s friends
Most teens think it’s a little weird when they get friend requests from parents. I would say it’s fine if teens make the request, but not the other way round.
6. ‘Befriend’ your teen early on
If you are going to be friends with your teen on Facebook, do it as soon as they join up. It will get harder as they get older and value their privacy more.
7. Set out your own expectations
Parents should set rules for their teens’ social media behaviour. Cyber bullying is a big concern, but in my experience, time wasting and fear of missing out (FOMO) are the main problems. Teens spend way too much time on social media, keeping up with what everyone else is saying and doing (errr – not that much). Schoolwork can suffer as a result, and teens can get depressed when they believe everyone else is having more fun than they are.
8. Set time limits on social media
Get the smart phone out of your teen’s room when they are meant to be doing homework to avoid social media distractions.
9. Don’t forget to update privacy settings regularly
And make sure teens are familiar with how to keep themselves safe online. They should avoid giving out personal information and be aware that there are predators out there in the virtual world.
10. Keep up to date
According to media reports, teens are abandoning Facebook in their droves, just as parents pile on. Teens are seeking parent-free social media platforms and there are loads of them out there. It is worth finding out which ones your teen uses.
11. Escape from social media
Whenever possible, book holidays that are off the grid. In my experience, teens are delightful when they have a break from social media. They don’t know what they’re missing out on, and can concentrate on enjoying their holiday and communicating with actual people!