Teaching Your Teen How to Have a Healthy Relationship with Social Media

Social media isn’t all bad.


  • Holding hands to save the kids in the undertow
  • Gun control debate (no matter how you feel about the subject matter, you can’t deny these teens are using social media to create a movement).

It’s important to teach kids how to be stewards of social media rather than to take the position that it is bad/scary/unimportant.

Approach social media and your teens with respect and a genuine desire to learn and work together.

If you tell them it’s dumb or only talk about the negative, it’s going to make them shut down. If you take an interest in the apps they use, ask them how they feel about things that are happening online, or their use of their social media channels, that can go a long way.

It’s highly unlikely that we can be one step ahead of our kids when it comes to social media or technology. Social media is my entire job and the teens I know are always teaching me some new feature when it comes out.

We can’t be there all the time. We can’t monitor all their use. There’s always the chance they could create a fake instagram account that we follow, or they have their conversations deleting/saving into a locked app. If they want to find ways around the rules, they probably will. If they want to.

If they are passionate/angry about something, they’re going to say something on social media first.
I wrote song lyrics as my Facebook status every time a broke up with my boyfriend or got in a fight with my friends.

Talk to them not only about keeping themselves safe, but also how the way they present themselves on social media can affect their future careers/college admission.

At my previous job, people would get reported to us on social media all the time. Not just for what they put on their page, but if they were arguing with someone in the comments section of a news article, or being particularly unkind, people would send us screenshots. We had several teenage interns who were reported to HR because they were “trolling” people online.

Most employers WILL check your social media before they hire you. They WILL google your name. This can be good if you’ve been responsibly using social media, but VERY bad if you haven’t.

All that being said, I do encourage you to help your teen set boundaries for use. No phones at dinner, for example, would be good. No phones right next to the bed at night, would be another example. It can be time consuming and addictive, and making sure they are able to set the phone down and take a mental break is really important.

Online video games/apps

Not inherently dangerous, but many time kids/teens can find themselves interacting with complete strangers if they’re playing video games online. It’s important to teach them red flags, make sure they understand the dangers, and empower them in a way that they are capable of keeping themselves safe and comfortable coming to you if something doesn’t feel OK.

Online video games are notorious for trash talking. Horrible trash talking. Sometimes, it can be bullying. Talk to your kids about having respect in this situations and not engaging with that behavior.

Red Flags

There are dangers to social media. Predators do target teens through social channels. It does happen. I genuinely don’t think we can set enough rules to protect our kids, though. We need to set parameters, but also be teaching our kids the red flags, and helping them respect and value themselves in every day life.

Predators choose easy targets. They’ll look for the teen with sad lyrics, moody pictures, ones who express feeling misunderstood or lonely.

Grooming is very easy on social media, because all the information is readily available. The predator can find their favorite books, movies, food, music, and create rapport by liking all the same things.

Even bigger than predators targeting kids on social media, much more prevalent, is cyber bullying. It’s much easier to be mean to someone while sitting behind a screen than it is to say it to their face. Follow your kids on social media. Check the comments on their pictures. Check how they interact on other people’s profiles or page profiles.  Look out for the bullying emoji.

The big four: Overview of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat.

Kik, Facebook messenger, tumblr, — they never really stick, and it’s hard to keep up with what’s coming/going.

Practical application

Privacy Settings

Teens don’t really use Facebook anymore. It’s up to you to make sure that your Facebook privacy setting are up to snuff. Even if their settings are super high, it can be easy to find out information about them via your profile, or through anyone else who’s close to them and doesn’t have the proper privacy settings.

Make sure instagram is set to private. One thing that can make parents rest easy is that Instagram is pretty straightforward. As long as kids aren’t accepting follow requests from strangers and they have their profile set to private, it’s relatively hard to find info on them.

Snapchat. You have to have their follow code, username, or their phone number to add them.

Twitter. Make sure that twitter is set to private, and discourage your kids from putting any identifying information in their profiles, which almost always show up publicly. For example, a lot of kids will put “CHS ’18” and if I wanted to target kids at Carrol High School, I could find them and guess their ages if I did some digging. Again, discourage them from accepting follow requests from people they don’t know. Especially if they choose to have some identifying info in their profile.

On any channel, don’t accept follow requests from people you don’t personally know. It’s easy to have a request, check and see you have mutual friends, and add them. Just because you have mutual friends doesn’t mean that person is safe. It actually doesn’t even mean that they know those friends in real life. I have a friend who will not accept a friend request from someone she hasn’t spoken to in the last year. Even if she knows them. I like the premise of that. Social media is supposed to be about engaging with other people, not growing your follower count (which is what it tends to be about sometimes).

Understand that social media is a big deal to teens.

Popularity contest
You want to have more followers than you’re following. That’s one reason they’d be inclined to accept requests from strangers.

They can curate a presence on social media and be whoever they want to be. Usually, the way we present ourselves on social is actually very thoughtfully crafted. You get to reveal what you want about yourself in however way you want. This can mean that the image we’ve created is very important, and if something messes that up it can be very upsetting.

If your child is bullied on social media — an embarrassing video/picture/rumor going around for example — it is a very big deal to them and it’s not something that should be shrugged off.

WRITTEN BY Brittany King