[On June 19, Nathan Neil and Janelle DelSignore of LaunchUX had the privilege of leading a presentation titled “Parent Power – Social Media” to an audience of concerned parents, grandparents and others. The candid discussion included statistics and tips intended to keep kids and teens safe online, but most importantly, it included a live interview with two high schoolers regarding their actual social media usage. The event was sponsored by LaunchUX and NewsTalk 103.7, and it was held at 104 B Street in Greencastle. The event was streamed live on Facebook and covered by The Record-Herald. We proudly present our findings in this three-part blog series.]

Parents, Teens and Social Media Part 2: Five Things To Know

Upon hearing about the threats that can lurk on social media, it’s probably natural that parents might be tempted to outright ban it in the household. On the other hand, parents might be inclined to say, “Let kids be kids” and let them navigate the world of social media on their own.

Every family will handle the matter of social media usage differently, but if we were to make a recommendation, it would be to consider a middle path.

We would suggest that parents follow their teens on social media.

You don’t have to be weird about it. You don’t have to like their posts or comment on their pictures. You don’t have to become their number one fan. But the mere presence of your name in their list of friends or followers will be enough to remind them that people are watching what they do while still giving them the freedom to interact with their peers.

Our Marketing Director Janelle DelSignore asked Hannah and Jacob – two teens who could be considered “typical” social media users – about the platforms they used and the role that parents might play in keeping them safe (without embarrassing them too badly).

1. Many teens don’t mind their parents going through their phones (too much).

Smartphones are very personal, but they’re not necessarily private. This means that it’s usually not a big deal for parents to scroll through it from time-to-time. Parents are far more likely to find things that are more embarrassing than incriminating. After all, teens are fairly comfortable letting each other borrow their phones, tablets and iPods, which means that they’re probably not keeping anything too confidential on there.

Audience Member: So if your parents took your phone, you wouldn’t have a problem with them looking?

Jacob: No.

Hannah: It would be okay.

Jacob: I wouldn’t care at all…Yeah, I mean, I don’t really have anything to hide, so they can take it. It wouldn’t really                  matter to me.

But then they agreed that not all of their friends might be so obliging….

Janelle: But your friends that maybe, you know, are trouble makers? Would they just hand their phone over?

Hannah: No. Definitely not. It would be devastation, probably.

Jacob: There would be some where they would be more hesitant to do that, maybe get a little worried about that.

The general consensus was that knowing that they might have to hand their phones over to their parents made them more cautious about their online activities in general. As a parent, it might be your right to demand that they surrender their phones on demand, but if you come on too strong you risk losing the open dialogue and driving them to secrecy – and that’s a battle that parents – who often rely on teens to explain the technology to them – simply aren’t equipped to win.

But if everyone remains respectful of each other, teenagers might be more inclined to maintain a digital life that they don’t mind handing over to friends – and maybe even their parents.

2. Know where to look.

A significant portion of the social media symposium was spent discussing where parents should look because in 2018 it can be somewhat complicated.

There was a time when “Facebook” and “social media” were synonymous, but the social networking landscape has grown significantly more complex since then. In fact, Facebook wasn’t even in the top four social networks listed by Hannah and Jacob.

Janelle: I kind of want to talk to you two about Facebook if that’s okay. Is that one that you guys are on all the time or…

Hannah: No. Hardly ever. Facebook is probably the one that I never check, really.

Jacob: I have it, but it’s just to look at things to buy. So I don’t really go on there. [Hard to hear – something about      keeping in touch with family members a few hours away]. Just to talk with them sometimes.

This led to two important insights.

  1. Facebook might be less important to teens than we had originally assumed.
  2. Parents who follow their teens on Facebook are not getting the full story.

So where should parents be looking?

Hannah: Instagram. Snapchat. An app called VSCO. Twitter.

Which led to this humorous exchange.

Audience Member: VSCO?

Second Audience Member: What is VSCO?

Janelle: VSCO – She (Hannah) actually educated me on it. It’s like a brand new one that older people don’t know about.

First Audience Member: Like me (laughter).

Parents need to be aware of all of the social media networks their teens are active on, and we would recommend that they sign up for themselves and see how it all works. A lot of times, parents will say, “Okay, well, I’m checking my child’s Facebook account, and they seem to be doing fine. There’s nothing bad going on here.”

That’s good news, but Facebook might not be the social network where teens are spending their time.

When looking at their teen’s social media profile, parents should be sure to:

  • Read the comments to posts
  • Read direct messages (i.e., private one-to-one messages)
  • Get added to their Stories (learn more about how we use Stories for digital marketing purposes here)

One other thing to watch out for: Many sites allow users to create multiple profiles and pages within their accounts. The individual profiles can have different followers, and the content on each can differ greatly. One might be the “more appropriate” public-facing page while another is for posting things that aren’t fit for mass consumption.

Many of them are harmless spaces where friends are grouped by a common interest, but these alternate profiles are potential breeding grounds for bullying.

Hannah: For Instagram, they have fake Instagram accounts call Finsta that a lot of kids make, and it’s like the other one that you don’t want people to see. It is private, usually, and usually they only let a couple of people follow them, so on that they will post a picture of someone and they will make fun of them or ridicule them. It’s really rude and harsh to one person. And that person won’t be able to see it. They won’t even notice it.

It’s not difficult to find and follow these profiles – a simple Google search or a call to Janelle at LaunchUX can walk you through it, but it is important that you do it.

3. Know what to look for.

This section requires parents to understand two things that are constantly and changing and might actually seem to be intentionally designed to confuse and frustrate them: social media and their teenagers. If you don’t know what to expect from the teenager, and you aren’t sure what all of the symbols mean, then you could be missing some important – and obvious – red flags.

Does the perception match the reality? Are they trying to project perceptions that their life is one way when it’s really not? Social media tends to be a repository of images that only represent the best moments, and even those are heavily filtered and cropped. When other people see it, there can be a sense of “Well, it’s really easy and fun for her, so why is my life difficult?”

And enough exposure to this “idealized” life can often lead to depression in the viewer whose real life will almost always seem lame by comparison.

Janelle: I think when people go onto social media, they assume everyone else’s life is great, and a vacation, and look how gorgeous they look. And really, it’s a false perception of reality. And that messes with people.

On the other end of the spectrum, though, teens also need to learn how to express their negative emotions appropriately online. Many adults could also stand to learn this lesson, as well. For that matter, even companies can become a little “like-obsessed” sometimes, which is something that we addressed here.

These outbursts tend to be in the form of Subtweeting and Vaguebooking. Subtweets are Tweets that take a jab at someone without mentioning them specifically. For example, if one friend is upset with another friend, instead of simply saying that, they might Tweet, “I’m having an awful day.” The intended recipient will wonder if it’s about them and either confront the person or – more likely – send out a Subtweet of their own.

Vaguebooking is similar in the sense that it is of a cryptic nature, but the intent is usually more attention-seeking. A vague post might simply say, “Everything is awful.” People scrolling through will have no idea what this is regarding and will either choose to inquire or continue scrolling on by.

The other issue is who can see the text, images and videos that teenagers are posting on social media. Pretty much every social media platform can be made “private” these days, and we, of course, highly recommend that until they are old enough to make their own decisions (and probably after that). But there are a few other things that parents can be aware of when monitoring who has access to their children’s social media.

Hashtags are universally used across social media platforms to group and organize posts by category. In the race to get as many followers as possible, hashtag choice can have some unintended consequences.

Janelle: If my daughter had an Instagram account, and she had hers set to public, and she was using certain hashtags like #prettygirl or #blueeyes or #bikini. People will tag your photo, and that photo goes into that category. So if you hashtag prettygirl, obviously, men are going to click on that hashtag, and then they can potentially follow her.

The additional concern here is that the hashtags can potentially make the photo available to people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to access it – especially if the image is public. But even if the image is private, parents need to know who is following their children. What kind of accounts are they? What content are they sharing?

Parents and teens should not be afraid to “block” accounts that are inappropriate, questionable or simply unknown.

Janelle: If it’s an old man from a different state – what business do they have following Hannah?

Audience Member: Can you block followers?

Hannah: Yes, you can.

Jacob: Yes. You can report people if you feel like it’s suspicious, and it gives you options as to why you reported them.

Janelle: That’s exactly right. If somebody just cares about the number but doesn’t care about the quality of people following them, it might be your job to go through and say, “Okay, what’s this guy’s business following you? Why does it really matter? Block.”

Additionally, some social media platforms include the physical location of the poster so users can find each other in the real world. Whether it’s Facebook Check-Ins or Snap Map, parents need to understand the implications of including real-time physical location information in their social media posts.

The good news is that, once again, the teens are able to inherently recognize some of the risks.

Hannah: This is kind of crazy, too, because the Snap Map takes the location that you’re at and tells everyone that you’re friends with where you’re at at that time.

Jacob: You can also disable that, though.

Hannah: Yeah, you can.

Jacob: So people can’t tell where you are.

Hannah: People call it “Ghost Mode.”

Jacob: I disabled mine because I don’t really want people knowing where I’m at. It’s kinda’ weird. Somebody could stalk you.

The one exception that we might recommend – and this is really a personal matter between parents and teenagers – setting it so that only the parents are able to see their location. It is now possible for parents to track their kids’ locations using social media. This is another case where it is certainly within the parents’ rights to do it – after all, they’re probably paying for the phone, etc. – but if it’s not approached from a position of open dialogue, it can create a lot of parent-teen friction.

We can let you know what your options are and how to do it, but – as with teens and social media – it’s ultimately up to you how you use it.

4. The internet never forgets.

The internet’s collective memory is vast. Everything that is posted on every website, blog, social media platform and direct message lives on – even after it is deleted. This is especially important to remember on social networks like Snapchat that emphasize that the messages are temporary. After the pre-determined time passes, they can no longer be accessed, but that doesn’t mean that they’re truly gone.

Users can take a screenshot of conversations, which creates an image file of whatever was on the screen at that moment – including your “temporary” “private” exchange. That image file – as with all images – can be shared virtually anywhere. Apps today even allow people to record the screen as a video for a certain amount of time, and then they can open the video and pinpoint exact moments of the conversation – including everything that was said or shared.

And this generally happens without the other person’s knowledge.

But even when the moment isn’t captured by the users, it was certainly stored on the company’s servers.

Nathan: So what I was going to say – from a technology standpoint – is that even if the image is not screenshotted, it still lives on Snapchat’s servers.

Audience Member: As some politicians have woefully found out.

Nathan: All of that stuff is still stored. A few politicians have found that out the hard way. But anything that goes through the internet stays on the internet. It might be very hard to get to, but it’s still somewhere.

Maybe your children don’t have any political ambitions today, but maybe at some point down the line they will. And, as we’ll see in Part 3, this poses a very real risk to their futures – potentially affecting college admissions and career opportunities.

5. Parents and teens should be vigilant – not hysterical.

Remember that while this can be scary for adults, for your teens it’s just part of life. Nobody can keep up with every social media change – even we struggle sometimes, and we’re professionals – which is why maintaining an open dialogue is so important. Social media isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, so you will have to learn to live with it.

As parents, you don’t have to commit to knowing everything about social media, which is good news because you will almost always be a few steps behind. You only have to commit to continue learning.

And that requires communication.

Social media is an important part of the adolescent experience, and it shouldn’t be perceived as inherently bad. This is the space where teens have to learn how to interact with each other, and kids, being kids, will do a lot of stupid stuff that doesn’t make sense to parents.

But it makes sense to them.

Bullying, predators and inappropriate behavior are not new or exclusive to social media. Those risks have always been present. Social media may have changed the way they manifest in our lives and the specific measures we have to take to protect our teens, but at their core, they’re the same threats as when you were a kid.

Because parents aren’t in control of the social media experience, it is easy for them to take a position of suspicion. This tension played out to comic effect during the talk, but it revealed a very real dynamic that can hinder open dialogue.

Audience Member: Last question, then. What app didn’t you tell us about that you really are using that we really do need to know about? You gave us VSCO. What is it? Come on. There’s something out there on the bubble or on the cutting edge that we don’t know about that you do that you’re telling us. Come on!

Janelle: Pull out your phones!

Audience Member: Let’s see your phones!

These are a few of the things that you can talk to your teen about to help them understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. It’s not just because you’re crazy and need to know everything. It’s because you want to protect them.

So stay calm and maintain the dialogue. Just because you don’t know everything doesn’t mean that things are being hidden from you.

Be vigilant, not paranoid.

You’ll get through this – together.

[If you missed it, you can go back to Part 1, or you can proceed to Part 3].