"Parenting (and shaming) teens in the age of social media" is a recent Washington Post article about parenting in the world of social media.
Much of the article really hit home for me, like this discussion on the importance of acting like, you know, an adult even when your urge is to have a little temper tantrum:
Many times, she [clinical social worker Lisa Ferentz] said, when teens post inappropriate pictures or comments online, that triggers the parents, and if they respond in the moment, they react almost like a child themselves, from a place of deep emotion. My children are only eight years old, and I already know the helpless feeling of being pulled back into the mindset of a child when they get stubborn with me. It only gets worse as they get older.
The advice on why it's so important to remain calm and logical is great:
It is exactly this reasoning that teenagers need most, she said. They need guidelines and boundaries that come from a place of logic and calm.
“Teenagers don’t fully understand cause and effect. They don’t think through what consequences the posting is going to have down the road,” Ferentz said. “You have to sit with your kids and say ‘let’s look at all the possibilities of what happens if you post certain things online.”
Public shaming—not an effective strategy
Much of the article discussed parents retaliating on social media. Hoping that public shaming might motivate their kids to shape up where other tactics have failed. I won't repost the video examples from the article (I certainly wouldn't want my worst parenting moments on the internet, so I won't share others' poor decisions). But it was good to read such a clear description of why shaming and humiliation is not an effective strategy for encouraging teens to stop being impulsive or reckless:
“What we know is that nobody is ever motivated through shame or humiliation, and all it does is further alienate a teenager from her parents,” Ferentz said. “Adolescence is a time when peer acceptance and approval is critical. If a parent does something that will shame or ostracize a teenager in front of her peers, that’s a breach of trust.”
Maintaining trust and connection with your kids is absolutely critical. There are going to be moments where you screw up, your kids screw up, or everyone screws up together. We're all human and we all make mistakes (sometimes big mistakes). Living through those mistakes and, hopefully, becoming better and wiser people depends on maintaining an authentic and trusting relationship. That relationship is what allows the damage to be repaired and for families to stay strong for the next challenge.
Trust and connection vs. friendship
There is a difference, of course, between having a trusting relationship with your kids and being friends. And regularly we have to choose to sacrifice our kids liking us or thinking we are cool for what is right for them in the long term. The trick is to do it in such a way that they still know that we love them and for them to trust us to do what's best for them. That's no easy task.
Helping parents keep an eye on social media while maintaining trust has been something that we've thought about, designed for, and tested since the beginning of building RAKKOON. It's the core principal of all that we have done. From the very first interviews with families that we did in the design process that's what came out most strongly. The parents and kids all talked about trust.
Now they didn't present it in a nice, neat summary–"we think you should design an app that helps us maintain trust". They talked about it in hundreds of tiny anecdotes. Parents talked about the hard moments when they did something their kids didn't like. Many kids talked about moments when they felt their parents were terrible human beings but, as they got older, they understood that their parents had their best interests at heart.
We even worried about whether the whole reason for the existence of RAKKOON–allowing parents to help kids learn to use social media responsibly by seeing their social media activity–was damaging to the trust between parents and kids. As we've seen how RAKKOON works in practice (and seen the importance of kids seeing everything that their parents see in their own version of the app), those doubts have faded away. But it's still nice to read an article that so unambiguously supports what we are trying to do:
She advocates placing firm rules around social media and being completely transparent about them. When your teens set up social media accounts, she said parents should have access to their passwords, and they should check in on the pages once in awhile. The teenagers should know this is going to happen.
“Remember, this is not a violation of privacy,” Ferentz said. “Teenagers need this guidance. Parents must be willing to be involved enough. It’s not about being your kids’ friend. You might lose their friendship, but that’s different from losing their trust.”