Being the mother of a 13 year old is challenging and it often seems that I have forgotten what it’s like to be a teenager. Middle school, for me, was by far the most difficult phase of my childhood. Everyone was out to prove something, striving to be popular, or to simply struggling to be accepted. I have always felt that, given the choice, I would never want to re-live those years. As my daughter grew older, I knew that I would face these struggles again, but I never imagined the amount of obstacles that would be added to the course. Gadgets like cell phones, iPods, tablets, and the over abundance of “intrusive” social media apps have made it difficult to keep track of what teens are up to. I became “that parent” thinking that my child was perfect, that she would never give her personal information to an online stranger. She would never use profanity or put others down in order to gain acceptance. I knew this because I set her accounts to private, I was her ‘friend’, and I kept an eye on her activity each week. I gave her all of the tools she needed to be responsible and yet, I was blissfully ignorant.
Upon discovering questionable content on a couple of her accounts, I decided I needed to take action. The amount of time she was devoting to her social media persona was impacting her ability to focus in real life. It was difficult for her mind to wind down at bed time. What if someone replied, liked, rated, or added her as a friend as she drifted off to sleep? All of these what-ifs danced behind her eyelids as she tried to fall asleep. So, once again we had a discussion about online safety and how strangers don’t need a lot of personal information to put her in harms way. We talked about how easy it is for people to pretend they are someone else. Much to my daughter’s disapproval, I removed Snapchat, Vine, and Twitter from all of her devices. Instagram is now the only social media platform she has access to. She has a wifi curfew in order to limit the amount of time she’s spending online while she is at home. I also enrolled in our cell phone carrier’s family safeguard program in order to have better control. For around five dollars a month, we have peace of mind and she is aware that we are watching closely. I am able to monitor and control when she’s online, who she’s interacting with. I have the ability to locate and/or lock her phone remotely when she is away from home. I feel that she is more cautious knowing that interacting with an unknown or flagged contact will get my attention. Not only am I sent an alert, but she is also sent a text message that we have been notified. These safeguards give her the chance to slow down so that she can make better choices in the future. The benefits have been well worth the “your ruining my life” phase of this ordeal. She is sleeping better, her grades have improved, she’s more present at home, and I have better peace of mind.
Social media is like a vine, intertwining itself into every aspect our children’s lives. Kids are consumed with how many likes, re-tweets, replies, and shares they can get. It is our job as mothers to teach our teens the importance of self-worth, being responsible, and what it means to be truly present in their everyday lives. It is also our job to teach them that social media can be fun, but it must be used in moderation and with a sense of responsibility. The steps that I have taken are the best fit for my family’s needs, though I am sure there is room for improvement.
I hope that my story sparks a discussion about internet safety within your family and makes everyone aware of the struggle we all face to stay one step ahead!