I've picked up on a few recurring trends when talking with parents (and youth workers and teachers) of pre-teens/teens about social media recently...
I hear a lot of fear and uncertainty. I see a lot of deer-in-the-headlight, overwhelmed looks. And I understand. The world wide interwebs are big and scary and kidnappy.
But if there's one thing I think (or rather, hope) I might help you with, it is understanding your kids' mindsets. They're speaking a language you're trying to understand and that's scary. Or at the very least annoying.
This is no cause for mass hysteria. No panic necessary.
The trends and sites and apps change entirely too fast to keep up with every single one, and that's ok! It's not just about the apps. It's about bridging the gap between viewpoints. Understanding where the other person is coming from. Or at least it's a starting point.
So. Pretend you and I are sitting across the table from each other with delicious lattes in our hands, and let's talk about a few specific differences I hear:
1. Online vs. Offline Communication
A big concern I hear over and over is the amount of time kids spend with their noses stuck in their phones.
"I wish they would just put that contraption down and have a real conversation."
"They are always on their phones. How are they supposed to learn basic social etiquette?!"
While those frustrations are valid, it's important to understand that teenagers view online communication the same as in-person communication.
You see a huge difference between a face-to-face coffee date and a Facebook wall post, but they don't. They see a text, a tweet, a phone call, FaceTime, an Instagram comment, or a Kik conversation the same as an in-person chat.
It may seem foreign to you (because it is), but it's their reality...and will be from here on out. You clearly distinguish between "online" and "offline". They see it all as communication. Simple as that.
The conversation might really be more about time management than communication styles.
2. App-Specific Fears
SnapChat and Ask.fm don't have a whole lot of fans over the age of 20, and rightly so. There have been awful news reports about cyber-bullying, suicides, kidnapping, etc. because of these sites. Scary stuff.
But we aren't panicking, remember?
While those apps in particular seem to be fool-proof in causing our teens' moral compasses to fail, they themselves are not the issue. The app doesn't bully. The app doesn't kidnap. The app doesn't sext.
My point is this: if they feel so inclined, your kids will send naked pictures with or without SnapChat. Your kids will be jerks with or without Ask.fm. Your kids will struggle with identity with or without Instagram.
While it's important to be aware of and have a healthy fear/concern for specific apps (and the temptations they bring about), it's much more important to remember that the negative things that happen on those platforms are separate, much deeper issues than the apps themselves.
The apps will come and go at lightning speed. But bullying, self-esteem, purity...these are underlying struggles that teenagers from every decade and every walk of life have faced. They just play out differently, and much more publicly, for today's teens.
It's a behavior that needs addressing, not an app.
3. Making Mistakes
Living a "public" social life (as most teens online today do) has major pros and cons.
Pro: They are forced to be who they say they are.
Show of hands - any parents out there ever sit through Sunday morning church in their younger years horribly hungover as a result of previous night's festivities? (Hey, just you and me and our lattes, remember? No need to get squirmy.)
Your kids don't have this luxury. They get wasted on Saturday night, they end up tagged in some post or picture somewhere. They don't get to be two different people.
I think this falls into the "pro" category because authenticity always beats a façade. Always. Even if it's messy. (Especially if it's messy.) You can address an honest mess. You can't address a hidden identity.
Con: They live a public social life.
When they mess up, they mess up big. They mess up in front of everyone. Their dirty laundry is permanently aired.
So. I know you want to freak out about that Ask.fm question that boy asked about your daughter's bra size. I know it makes you want to delete the account immediately and ban her from ever interacting with another human male again. And maybe you should do all of those things.
But I also know that you yourself got into sticky situations as a teen, your parents just didn't have a full access, front-row seat to it.
I did plenty of things as a teen I knew my parents would vehemently disapprove of, but I was a teenager DANGIT and I wanted to experience it for myself. More often than not, those decisions led to a quick realization of why my parents made the rules and boundaries they did. But I had to realize it. My parents set the foundation, I had to make the decision.
Teenagers are teenagers are teenagers. They do and say really stupid things. That's what teenagers do. Teens today make bad decisions they need to learn from, they just don't have the privacy to do so like you or I did.
You've set the foundation for them. Sometimes they have to learn from their mistakes without intervention, even though it's public.
And, hey, it's public for all of them. None of them know any differently. It seems crazy to you or I, but it's their norm. (Hence the inherent authenticity found in younger generations.)
So long story short...
As far as parenting decisions go, I'm not even a little bit qualified to give advice. Nor am I trying to. (In fact...if you saw just how heavily I rely on Google when parenting my own tiny human, you would call CPS immediately.)
But I think some of the communication barriers you and your kids hit simply come from having two completely different viewpoints. My hope is that conversations like this help build even the tiniest of all bridges.