Behind the Social Media Scene: Four Tips for Parents

Christy Hodges, Dean of Student Life, Episcopal School of Jacksonville

by Christy Hodges, Dean of Student Life

These days, most of the information teenagers discover about the world they live in comes from Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter. They get constant updates about the lives of celebrities, friends, friends of friends, and strangers who \"follow\" the same person they do, putting them on a never-ending hamster wheel of information that allows them to interact with, communicate with, and become trusting of people they don\'t even know.

Here are four things that parents need to watch out for as their teen uses social media.

They Have Countless Accounts
Teenagers often have several accounts within the same social media outlet. They normally have one account that their family can follow. Their second account is mainly for friends to follow so they can communicate in group chats. Recently, there seems to be an increase in the use of anonymous accounts that teens use to share their personal opinions and feelings about sensitive or controversial topics. This is very attractive to them, because friends and family can\'t readily identify them as the owner of the account. Many of these accounts use memes and emojis and have a tendency to be negative about other people. Be aware that what you see your teen posting on social media may not be all they\'re posting on social media!

Pass the Password
Teens are very trusting within their friend groups. They share their passwords with each other for social media accounts, streaming services like NetFlix, and gaming devices. This is their norm! If they are using Snapchat, they want to keep their \"streak\" going. Meaning, they want to keep sharing information with their friends as long as they can -- and sharing their passwords will keep this going. There are many unfortunate ramifications and dangers associated with sharing this information, which teens don\'t always fully understand. Sharing passwords and accounts can lead to a teenager being misrepresented on social media. Their personal information can also be stolen because it is connected to one of these accounts. Remind your teen to refrain from sharing their passwords and account information, and to change their passwords often so their identity is not compromised.

Who\'s Watching
Understanding privacy rules is extremely important for each and every media outlet your teenager is using. Teens feel that online, they are invincible. They aren\'t mature or sophisticated enough yet to realize that nothing stays private for long. Talk to your student to be sure they understand that their social media accounts are their \"brand\" in the world from the second they sign in to use them. Many teenagers make their accounts private, but as long as they have followers on those accounts and share personal information and photos (the very purpose of social media!), they will always be at risk.

Decode the Code
Since teens express themselves in multiple ways on social media -- for example, with words, videos, pictures, and memes -- we as parents must stay aware of these kinds of communication trends and what they might mean. For example, teens will change the background color of their profile page or talk in the third person about a hurtful situation when they may need support to work through their feelings. Most teens know that if they see this from a friend it is a call for help. Make sure your child knows to talk to a trusted adult if they become concerned about a friend\'s social media postings. In addition, social media likes to encourage the use of hashtags to get teens to let their inhibitions down and try new things. Watch out for the \"ask\" to participate in a challenge or a stunt. Some of these activities are for charity and may seem harmless, but some of them can be hurtful to your student\'s physical and/or emotional well-being.

Helping our teens understand what goes on behind-the-scenes of their social media apps will equip them to be more responsible while using these sites. Encourage them to remember their \"brand,\" keep their passwords to themselves, talk to an adult if they become concerned about a friend, and always be aware that what they share can never be taken back.

Episcopal, in conjunction with Baptist Health, will hold a forum on the "Influence and Effects of Social Media & Screen Time" on March 7 at 5:30 p.m. at the school\'s Munnerlyn Center theatre, located at 4455 Atlantic Blvd. The event is free and open to the public. Parents are encouraged to bring their teens. More information.