The Dangers of Social Networks: It’s Hard NOT to be a Helicopter Parent

By: Hessie Jones

October 6, 2013

Picture the Internet graphicBy Hessie Jones

For the last 3 weeks I’ve been lurking. I’ve been watching  the activities happening on my 13 year-old’s Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook accounts. I asked my daughter to provide me with her usernames and passwords of her social accounts. “Don’t you trust me, Mom?” she shoots back. “I have all the faith that you are doing the right things”, I say. ” It’s everyone else I don’t trust!” She reluctantly gives me the information.

Other social networks have made it easier for kids to leave Facebook

Facebook was the first platform to mandate an age restriction. While it was fairly easy to get around that, it was something. But more teens are leaving Facebook–not because their parents are there– but because there are so many other social alternatives cropping up that don’t have any age requirements: Instagram (was the first), Snapchat, Vine, Whatsapp. Teens know they are being targeted.

As Ruby Karp, a 13 year old points out:

In the end, Facebook has been trying too hard. Teens hate it when people try too hard; it pushes them away. It’s like if my mom told me not to do something — I immediately need to do it. When she forces something on me, I really don’t want to do it.

Teens just like to join in on their own. If you’re all up in their faces about the new features on Facebook, they’ll get annoyed and find a new social media.

Facebook needs teens, because we’ll be the people keeping it going very soon. And teens can see that, which freaks them out.

Teens, no matter how digitally-saavy, are still teen-agers

Today’s teens ‘grew up’ with the Internet. It’s not difficult for our children to easily navigate new apps, communicate with each other, and, naturally, find ways to evade parental surveillance.

As parents we know what it’s like:

  • Teen-agers want to blend in. Being liked and being perceived like everyone else keeps them safe.
  • Teen-agers are followers. A teenager on Mashable put it this way, ” Teens are followers. That’s just what we are. If all my friends are getting this cool new thing called Snapchat, I want it, too! We want what’s trending, and if Facebook isn’t “trending,” teens won’t care.

Because of the relentless peer-pressure, parents can often be relegated to a lower tier of influence.  And, kids’ behaviour will be dictated largely by their friends and peers. So, not allowing your kids to have accounts on or Formspring is not a deterrent.

Be informed and arm your kids

I am aware of many of these networks and their dangers. It’s part of what I do in my profession. But not all parents are aware of these sites nor what potential dangers lurk within.  It’s important, as a parent, to be informed and understand what’s going on. Despite what restrictions I put on my daughter, inevitably she will do what she wants so it’s far better to be transparent with her on her use of these platforms and arm her with some tools in the meantime.

  • Keep up to date on how these sites are transforming themselves to be more accountable and keep your kids safer.
  • Know ALL the platforms where your kids have accounts and be vigilant about obtaining their password/user information.
  • On occasion, patrol the accounts looking for any signs of provocation or potential harm.
  • Don’t judge the content. We were teenagers once so it’s important to remember that many of what we discussed with other kids were more likely things our parents would abhor. So keep on task and be mindful of the end goal.
  • Educate your kids on the importance of avoiding discussions on text or DMs (direct messages) that can be copied and come back to haunt them later. Remember, anything on the internet doesn’t necessarily stay on the internet.
  • Encourage your kids to only friend those they’ve met in person. There are too many fake accounts and pedophiles using friendly photos and profiles to  lure unsuspecting victims to become friends.

And, if the notion of cyberbullying is what is holding you back from allowing your teen access and participation on the social media scene, here are a few resources for you, in particular.

As a person who lives and breathes social media, I am aware of what can happen if we don’t have the information necessary to act. The number of sites are cropping up at every turn and every parent needs to be aware of these places. And, they need to keep pace — for the sake of their kids.

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