By: Jonathan McKee
Decades ago the question was, “Do you know where your children are?” Today the question is, “Do you know who is following your children?”
Key word: following
Consider the app Instagram for a moment, the No. 1 social media platform used by teens today. Take a peek at anyone’s profile and you’ll see the word “followers” at the top of the screen with a little number above it. That number has become incredibly significant to today’s teenagers.
1. That number makes us feel good…or bad…about ourselves. Our phone is now a real-time barometer of self-esteem informing us exactly how many “friends” or “followers” we have at any moment. Do your kids have 643 followers? That might be more than most kids have at their entire school. But is it enough? Apparently not. Because almost every mental health expert chiming in on the subject sees a clear connection between social media and the unprecedented spike in teen anxiety, depression and even suicide in teenagers today. But the number of “followers” our kids have becomes incredibly significant for another reason…
2. That number conveys “influence.” The more “friends” or “followers” you have in social media circles, the more influence you have. And today, influence could mean cash. Ypulse research recently revealed that 72% of teenagers would like to be an online celeb. And when I say “celeb,” I don’t mean Will Smith or Ariana Grande. I mean someone like PewDiePie or Kylie Jenner. I’m talking “Instacelebs” and/or people with millions of followers on YouTube. Ask a kid what they want to be when they grow up? Forget doctor or fireman… today’s kids want their own YouTube channel. And this requires “followers.”
Here’s where things get more than a little bit scary. Because today’s kids don’t hesitate for a second to say yes to any stranger who asks to “follow” their social media profile.
“A really nice guy named Ted Bundy wants to follow me! Yassssss!”
Long gone are the days of “stranger danger.” Strangers are just another follower. And followers are good…right?
Here’s where moms and dads need to avoid overreaction and focus on interaction.
Engage our kids in conversations about social media safety, like how much information they post about themselves and the ability to recognize predatory behavior. For example, do your kids have SnapChat? If so, have they enabled SnapMaps so that their “friends” can see where they are at any time? Let that sink in for a moment:
1. Today’s kids say yes to almost anyone who requests to follow them.
2. SnapChat “Followers” can now see their location on a map at any time.
Let me ask you this question again: Do you know who is following your children?
Please, don’t freak out. That’s literally the worst thing you can do because then you slam the doors of dialogue shut. But if you haven’t had these conversations with your kids, seek out opportunities to connect with them and engage them in dialogue about social media. If your kids don’t have social media yet, consider using a guide like, The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices (or listen to our broadcast about cultivating wise tech habits in your teen) to engage our kids in conversation about this important subject.
Secondly, don’t be afraid to implement some sensible, bare-minimum screen limits like “no phones in the bedroom” or “no social media or chatting until age 13.” This includes kids chatting with strangers while gaming. It’s okay to delay social media until your kids are older. Did you throw your 11-year-old the car keys and let them drive to school by themselves? We probably shouldn’t expect our 11-year-old to navigate the world of social media and have to recognize predatory online behavior.
In a world where 97% of teens have access to social media, 89% of teens have a smartphone, and 79% bring their devices to their bedroom with them every night, we might know where our kids are physically, but we don’t always know who they’re chatting with.
Point of fact: neither do our kids.
Maybe it’s time to engage our kids in conversation about social media safety.
Jonathan McKee is an Associate with Focus on the Family and author of over 20 books including If I Had a Parenting Do Over and The Teen’s Guide to Social Media and Mobile Devices. Jonathan speaks to parents and leaders worldwide all while providing free help for parents on TheSource4Parents.com