There is an enormous amount of pressure on parents to keep tabs on everything their teen does – especially online. But a little bit of privacy can be a good thing when it comes to healthy adolescent development.
The mall, the skate park, the beach, the drive-in, the soda fountain. These aren’t just spaces where generations of teenagers have hung out – they are where we *grew up.* Spaces where we got our hearts broken and found out we could survive, where we began testing out our personal ethics, and had opportunities to start making adult decisions without an adult on standby nearby.
Danger was present (and had serious consequences for some teens) but the exposure to the adult problems and consequences (and the safety to return home or call in a trusted adult) were a big part of the transition into adulthood that is the work of adolescence. As culture shifts, it’s important we leave space for older kids and teens to have some privacy in the space where they are most commonly meeting up: the internet.
Jo Langford – a therapist and sex educator – teaches more about this concept in his podcast APPropriate, and I can’t recommend highly enough his episode on Instagram, which discusses how parents and teens can collaborate to create a social media ethic that leaves space for parents to do some monitoring and kids to have space to do the work of growing up. After you’ve checked out the podcast – be sure and download his free Family Internet Contract – a resource for collaboratively creating guidelines to keep kids safe online.
Instead of “rules,” collaborate with your teen to co-create and take ownership of their social media ethic. Also be mindful that the most vulnerable children/teens online are those with needs that aren’t getting met through parent, peer, and support relationships.
Authority based rules (i.e. “I know what’s best so this IS the rule”) are at times appropriate and important- especially with younger kids. As kids grow, though, it’s important to begin helping them develop tools to navigate the complex adult word. Creating and agreeing to certain standards – as well as encouraging the consideration of a “personal media ethic” – can help keep teens safe online while growing independence and self-responsibility.
Research: Online-Use by Teens
As teens are spending more time online, and at earlier ages, more and more research is being done regarding how this time spent online is impacting their growing minds (and how it may be impacting adults!). There is a wealth of research showing the positive benefits of internet use, such as promoting connections among diverse people and even allowing for safe spaces to explore one’s identity. However, research shows that teens are generally unaware of the risks that are posed by online use, and often do not have the skills to navigate these risks, making them more vulnerable. These risks are only mediated by parental intervention. However, parental intervention does not mean monitoring all use at all times. Intervention can look like educating children and teens on risks that may be encountered, helping them know how to navigate those risks, promoting general safety and protective behaviors in online usage, and collaborating with them regarding how to have ethics and boundaries for online use (as mentioned above).