HOW TO HELP PRETEENS NAVIGATE SOCIAL MEDIA
Written by MS Broudy
Most of the articles we post on our website are written for church leaders who volunteer or lead 4th-6th grade ministry, but this one is different.
This one is written for parents of 4th-6th graders. If you lead or volunteer in preteen ministry, please share this with parents. And be sure to read the article yourself even if you're not a parent of preteens. I think you'll find it very helpful.
- Nick Diliberto, Ministry to Youth - Preteens
We live in the digital era. Young people today spend a large portion of their free time in front of a screen. Netflix. Amazon. Video games. Texting. Social Media. The list goes on.
Starting in the preteen years, social media is front and center. For parents, this can be intimidating and scary.
Your preteen keeps nagging you about wanting to join Snapchat. She tells you that all her friends are already on it. You don't know much about it, and you have heard some scary stories about social media. Sound familiar?
Here are some important considerations to help your preteens navigate the world of social media:
1/ Preteens Don't Have to be on Social Media.
If you feel strongly about it, you can tell your preteen they are not allowed to be on social media until they are older. Most social media platforms, including Snapchat and Instagram, state that their minimum age is 13.
Now, it is quite easy to put in a fake birthdate—there is no age verification—but you can always cite the rules as a reason why they can't join.
However, keeping your preteen off of social media may be harder than it sounds, and it may not be worth it.
This issue will not go away, and you will have to learn how to help them manage it at some point.
2/ Social Media Monitoring
One of the most challenging aspects of social media is the privacy vs. supervision debate. Preteens are at the age when they expect to start to have some privacy. They are also not wise enough to know about all the dangers the world presents.
Some monitoring is necessary. It is a tricky balancing act. The more you communicate with your tween about potential dangers and how you may monitor their use, the better.
3/ Should I Follow or Friend My Preteen?
Whether or not you should "friend" or "follow" your preteen is a controversial topic. Being a "friend" or "following" them means that you can see what they are doing online. It is a great way to keep track of what they are posting and with whom they are interacting, but it may also be seen as an invasion of privacy by your preteen.
A preteen is likely new to social media and could probably use some supervision, so being their "friend" is not unreasonable. As they get older and have more experience, you may want to consider giving them more privacy.
It is always a good idea to talk about why you want to be their "friend" before they join social media and come to a mutual understanding.
It's also a good idea to talk with your spouse about this and get on the same page together.
4/ Other Ways to Monitor
Besides being "friends," there are other ways to monitor your preteen's social media, some of which are more intrusive than others.
For one, you can always do spot checks on their devices. This is when you have them hand over their phones without warning so you can see what they are doing.
Another way of monitoring is to obtain their password, which allows you to see everything your tween is doing on that site.
You can also put tracking software on their device, which will allow you to see if they are doing anything inappropriate on social media and the internet.
Further, some parents only allow their preteens to be on social media in public areas. For example, they are only allowed to be on social media when they sit on the couch in the living room or when they are on the house computer.
Your choice of monitoring will depend upon your level of comfort. Your preteen needs to know that if you are going to allow them to be on social media, then they are going to be monitored in some way. If you tell them that up front, they will likely accept it without much resistance.
5/ Sharing Personal Information
Ideally, preteens learn how to monitor their own social media content. In an effort to guide them, they need to be told about safety rule number one: do not give out private information online.
This includes addresses, passwords, social security numbers, etc. Even if you trust the person with whom you are interacting, other people that you may not know so well might get a hold of it.
There are predators on social media. While some may be sexual predators, others are trying to exploit minors for personal gain.
If you keep your personal information private, then you thwart their efforts.
6/ Does Social Media Cause Depression and Anxiety?
Although more research is needed, there is definitely a reason for concern. A tween's self-image can be seriously affected by negative interactions with friends online.
One way to decrease the possibility of problems developing is to know the warning signs and put in healthy limits related to social media.
7/ Think Before You Post
When preteens are new to social media, they often do not consider who may see their posts.
When someone posts something controversial, it can lead to tremendous anxiety and cause significant issues between friends and family.
A good rule of thumb is to have them think about what their grandmother would think before they post something online.
8/ Can My Preteen Become Addicted to Social Media?
Social media addiction happens, but not as often as one might think. What is more likely is that social media use becomes problematic without quite reaching the level of clinical addiction.
What is problematic behavior? Ask yourself the following questions: Is your preteen withdrawing from your family to be on social media?
Is their school achievement slipping? Do they want to be on it at all times, including meals and other activities?
Keep in mind that some of this behavior is normal for a tween, but it can become excessive and disruptive.
It is critical to set up firm boundaries from day one.
Limit #1: The most important rule is to make bedtime device free.
Devices must be turned in an hour before bedtime. They are not allowed in their room at night. Your tween might bristle at this rule, but it is for their good. Not only can't you monitor what is going on in their bedroom, but having a device in their room will interrupt their sleep. A lack of sleep will lead to an assortment of other issues, none of them good.
Limit #2: No phones during meals.
Mealtime is a great time to connect with your tween. Social media interruptions will decrease the quality of those interactions.
Limit #3: No social media during organized activities.
Organized activities could include going out to eat as a family, visiting the grandparent's house, etc. Think beforehand what applies here and communicate it ahead of time.
SNAPCHAT, INSTAGRAM, AND TIKTOK
There are numerous social media platforms out there. You are probably already familiar with Facebook, which is incredibly popular among adults.
Snapchat, Instagram, and TikTok are the three most popular social media platforms for young people.
Social media is the primary form of communication for preteens and teenagers. Their social life revolves around it.
Here are some important points about the top 3 platforms you need to know.
(Editor's Note: Technically, YouTube is the #1 social media platform for young people. But we think of it more like a video streaming platform with a social element. So, we don't focus on it in this blog post.)
Although Snapchat is known as the social media platform where messages supposedly disappear after several seconds, you must let your preteen know that everything posted on social media is permanent. If someone wants to see what you have done, there are ways to access it.
Also, Snapchat has no newsfeed like other sites, making it difficult for parents to see what their tween has been doing. Also, It is very easy to add "friends" on Snapchat, almost ensuring that you will have some "friends" that are strangers.
Of particular concern, there is a feature called Snap Map, where a person can show others where they are located, which is extremely dangerous when shared with the wrong person. Some people on Snapchat are consumed with Snapstreaks, where they are rewarded for communicating with a friend for a certain amount of time. This usually ends up being a massive waste of time.
Additionally, Snapchat has a Discover feature, which often has inappropriate content for preteens. Finally, as with all social media, it is important to set privacy settings, so strangers are not invading your tween's life.
First, you need to be aware that there is quite a bit of mature content on Instagram, especially when you are friends with adults. The default setting on Instagram is public, so you will need to change that if you wish your tweens to only share information with their friends.
Because of the ease of creating an account, many tweens will set up additional accounts (called Finstas) where they can be free to post whatever they want without the prying eyes of parents.
One complaint you hear about Instagram is that there is an unhealthy focus on image and looking perfect to others. This can wreak havoc with a preteens self-esteem, something that if often fragile to begin with.
TikTok is the newest social media platform that is quickly gaining popularity by young people.
Our friends at Ministry to Parents wrote a great article all about what it is, how it works, how to use it, the main features, and it's pros and cons.
Go here to read the full article they wrote.
Rather than doing our own write up on TikTok, we're pointing you to that article. It's written specifically for parents, and they do a very thorough job.
Social Media is Not Going Away
Social Media is not going away. It is a significant part of your tween's life. Although there are aspects of it that are concerning, with proper limits and supervision, your preteen can use social media to enhance their knowledge and social life without experiencing serious negative consequences.
Written by MS Broudy, who is a psychologist, writer, and consultant. He has obtained a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and a master's degree in social psychology. He has spent over 20 years providing therapy and assessment services for a diverse set of clients. MS specializes in writing about mental health, parenting, and wellness. He has his own blog, mentalspokes.com, where he writes about psychological issues that he finds interesting. Most importantly, he is the father of two mischievous cherubs.