My 13-year-old is in an awkward phase, and her elementary school friends have left her behind as they continue to be on sports teams, which no longer interest her. She is spending a lot of time online, but it makes her happy. Should I be concerned even though the computer is in our kitchen?
There are so many facets to parenting with regard to online habits and using social media, and I’m glad you are staying involved with what your teenager is doing. Developmentally, the teen years are a time of great change. Teenagers are trying to understand who they are and how they fit into the world. They are becoming more independent, but remain impulsive and immature at times. Friendships may change, but it is important to have a positive peer group. But before we discuss that, let’s talk about the current situation.
How is your daughter spending time online? This will provide you with an insight into her current interests. Is she gaming? Chatting with others through an app or posting and/or watching videos? With so many interactive apps available, it is critical that parents know which ones their teenagers are using. Ask your daughter to show you what she is doing. Sit with her and be non-judgmental as she walks you through her typical routine. Unless you see something blatantly dangerous, don’t jump to conclusions about what she is doing. Instead, really try to see what your daughter is interested in.
Then, take the conversations one step further and discuss safety. These conversations have to continue throughout all of your daughter’s teenage years. Talk to her about how anyone can create an account online and pretend to be someone else. Ask her if she has ever said something online that isn’t the truth. Try not to accuse her, but instead, explore with her how easy it is to create a different persona. Sometimes it is harmless, but there are also people who create these different personas to earn a child/teenager’s trust because they have an evil intent. Help your daughter understand that and know how to protect herself. Advise her to never give someone she does not know personally (meaning she has met this person face to face) identifying information such as her full name, address, or school she attends. Predators are very skilled at taking small clues (Our team won states! or County choir is the best!) and using them to find children. Education will keep your daughter safe.
Talk about how the Internet has created a culture where people can say things, positive and negative, that they wouldn’t necessarily say to a person face to face. Talk about bullying. I imagine it might be hard to have most of these conversations, but you must.
And you need to talk with other parents about social media and find out what is popular in your daughter’s school. Ask the counselor what apps they hear kids talking about so you stay aware.
Finally, like I mentioned earlier, friends and relationships are important. Help your daughter explore some new interests. Does she like art or drama, cooking or animals? What does your community offer that interests her? Help her create some new friendships that will provide her a peer group. Let her know you aren’t replacing her online habits (as long as you deem them to be safe) but rather enhancing her life.
I applaud you for staying involved. Parenting teenagers can be harder now more than ever because of the Internet and social media, but asking questions, showing genuine interest, and staying connected will help your daughter navigate her teenage years successfully.