Technology Tuesday: Should I Help My Teenager Have Social Media?

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Our 13-year old son just got his first phone, and he does not have any social media accounts. He’s not interested in opening any - but lots of his friends have them.

Last week, 1500 miles north of us in a different state, a 17 year-old friend of ours (who also does not have social media) discovered that some girls had created a fake Snapchat account under her name, and started posting very distasteful, false photos of a girl they claimed was her.

This got me thinking. Should we create proper social media accounts for our teen to help his online profile be an accurate reflection of who he is? Even if he doesn’t collide with kids who would do something like what happened to her, other people can post photos of him from soccer, or while mowing the yard (this actually happened). If he’s not ready for social media, or simply not interested, should we as parents still work with him to create an accurate persona under his name - even if it’s just 6-10 photos - so he has his own online ID that is a true reflection of who he is?

This is such a great question...and one we’ve been thinking about more and more in the age of Instagram and Snapchat.  The sad reality is that kids are creating fake accounts everywhere.  I talk to girls regularly who have had this happen to them.  I honestly don’t believe there is anything we can do to prevent it.  As a matter of fact, Melissa, our Executive Director at Daystar and part of Raising Boys and Girls, had a fake account created in her name just last month.  Over twenty of us reported it on Instagram, and it is still there, with the offender asking for money from folks who believed they were following Melissa.  It seems to be one of the ways technology has gotten ahead of us, and we don’t quite have a way to stop the train.

That being said, we want to help the kids we love understand that this can happen.  We want them to be vigilant about what they post about themselves and about others.  And, just like they wouldn’t want someone to post a photo of them without permission, they need to give others the same respect.  And, if you find that your child has created an account in someone else’s name, they need consequences to understand the gravity of the issue.

If you want to help a teenager who doesn’t have social media have a social media presence, you can definitely help him or her set up an account that he doesn’t really have to monitor.  But, we are living in a day and time when it often goes the other direction.  As we all know, so many kids are obsessed and feel what one teen said to me, “My phone is my heart monitor.  If I don’t have it, I’ll die.”  It’s refreshing and can be a very healthy decision to not be on social media.  And I don’t believe him or her creating their own account will prevent others from creating one for them or posting about them…sadly.

If, however, your child seems to be lagging behind and not creating or maintaining friendships, you might want to consider creating one.  Many kids talk about how they only communicate via Snapchat today, and so you might want to talk about if his or her lack of social media as an older teen could be isolating him further.  It might not be the case, or he might have other friends who aren’t interested, as well.

The reality is that we all want the kids we love to have a community of other kids who support them…or even just a few.  Social media is not necessarily the way to create that, and it’s not where real relationships are nurtured in a way that’s truly life-giving…although any of us can fall prey to believing the opposite.  But social media is sometimes the way kids start the process of building relationship.  If you need to help your child have social media relationships to facilitate real, deeper, life-giving relationships, it might be worth it.  Just a little something to think about…and, even more importantly, talk with the kids you love about.