Teens, Screens and Social Media: Part 1

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Teens, Screens and Social media: navigating a brave new world of teens and social media.

I recently read the book American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers by Nancy Jo Sales. It was the scariest book that I have read this year.  Every parent needs to read this book.

The author talked to girls ages 13-19 in 10 different states about social media. Yes we all know kids can access porn online and we have all heard of cyber bullying. What scared me the most in the book was the girls saying, “I just can’t not be on my phone.” These girls talked about hating what was going on around them but being unable to leave their devices and social media behind. This is where I believe we can help as parents. Just as it is my job to monitor how much candy my three year old eats, it is my job to monitor how much social media my teen engages in.

In her Vanity Fair article on the same topic Nancy Jo Sales says:

“If you’re between 8 and 18, you spend more than 11 hours a day plugged into an electronic device. The average American teen now spends nearly every waking moment on a smart phone or computer or watching TV. This seismic shift in how kids spend their time is having a profound effect on the way they make friends, the way they date, and their introduction to the world of sex.”

My kids have actually complained to me about hanging out with friends who spend the entire time on their phones. 

Social Media is a Brave New World and we need to be guiding our children through it.

The girls in Sales book described sending nude pictures to boys the barely knew, and the boys in turn sharing these with friends or using these as blackmail. They talked about kids using social media as a weapon, going through and “unliking” photos and posts as a way to control them socially. The girls talked about being threatened and bullied online. The girls described boys who they barely knew texting them and asking for sex. They talked about posting a photo and checking it constantly to see who “liked” it and who commented. They talked about being hurt and crying because certain people unfollowed them or didn’t comment on their photos. Girls (some of whom were virgins) were slut-shamed over pictures they  posted or a refusal to have sex with boys.

No, the issues of sex, bullying and slut-shaming aren’t new. What is new is the access to 24/7 social media. This is a world most parents  know nothing about.

Current research shows:

Video games change the way our brains work.

Porn changes the way our brains work.

Texting is replacing real conversations and relationships. 

In my opinion this information cannot be ignored. We were a screen-free family for years. While that is no longer possible for us (I run my business on a computer, after all, and our kids have to have it for research for school) you can bet we limit and monitor its usage. We will also specifically limit the social media our teens are allowed to consume.

When Adalia (now 20) turned 13 we let her have a Facebook account. We owned one computer at the time that was hooked up to the modem in the dining room (no wi-fi). We monitored it closely. Soon Keziah had Facebook, then Judah, Tilly, Enoch, Kalina and Jubilee as they each turned 13. And it is getting harder and harder to monitor everyone’s usage. 

I think anyone with any social media knows it can be a mindless distraction. Just as I used to flip through the channels as a kid looking for something to watch, I see my teens scrolling through Facebook or YouTube mindlessly. When Chuck and I noticed this, we quickly put more limits on the teens. We used to be strict about 30 minutes a day on the computer. But sometimes school work takes more than 30 minutes on the computer, and there are at times good reasons to be on longer…My kids like to Skype their friends from Teen Missions and chat with friends who don’t live nearby.

Earlier this year we invested in Circle with Disney and got wi-fi for the first time. You can read my thorough review here, but one of my favorite aspects is being able to limit any device the hooks up to our wi-fi and setting time limits. When one of my kids’ friends walks in the house I get a notification on my phone and immediately set filters on the device. No, I don’t feel bad about it and no I won’t stop doing it. 

[As a rule of thumb, I set the filter level of other kids to the same level as mine…for instance, if Tucker’s friend hooks up to wi-fi, I will set the same filter level as I have for Tucker. If Enoch’s friends come over, I set the same filter level as Enoch has.]

I am not naive. Believe me, I know I cannot control what my kids see when they are outside of our home, but you can bet I will monitor what I goes on in my house. Yes, I know there are ways to get around these devices and hack into them. There are also ways to break into my van, but that doesn’t stop me from locking the doors.

Our goals are to protect our children from becoming addicted to screens and social social, to teach them reasonable limits and to make our home a safe place to be.

Here are our current social media rules:

Our children do not have smart phones. Our teens who need cell phones are given flip phones. This allows them to make phone calls and not much else. No texting, no videos, no internet access. 

[Tilly has an iPod touch, but she is 18 and it still has a bedtime and filters. Kalina also has an iPod touch with even more filters and a limit of one online hour per day]

Our teens have Facebook that we monitor. We don’t go and read every conversation they have, but the policy is we can access their account at any time.

Kalina and Tilly both have Twitter. Kalina mainly shares poems she has written and things he has mis-heard on her hilarious DeafGirlSpeaks account.

Hezekiah (12) and Tucker (10) both have email but not social media. Yes, I am a firm believer in no social media accounts until kids are old enough (i.e thirteen for Facebook).

Every device in our house has a bedtime controlled by Circle, meaning the internet cannot be accessed once it goes to sleep.

What kind of social media rules do you have in your house? How does it compare to their friends?

To be continued…next week I will specifically address the topic of pornography.


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10 thoughts on “Teens, Screens and Social Media: Part 1”

  1. Great article. I’ve gotten lazy about monitoring and need to step it back up! I also need to adjust their phone “bedtimes” now that school is starting back up. I use Verizon’s Family program to set data and time limits and I monitor messages periodically.
    I’m looking forward to your next post.

    1. We, too, have gotten lazy. You’ll be happy to know that Abby and Braven’s devices are filtered while at our house (lol). Seriously, though, you really need to read the book by Nancy Jo Sales…I thought I knew a lot about the dangers of social media…until I read the book.

  2. “They talked about being hurt and crying because certain people unfollowed them or didn’t comment on their photos.” <— need to realize that algorithms don't allow everyone to see the picture instantly. Instagram recently changed from a chronological time line to a "more popular" type algorithm and stuff you interact with more pops to the top and then other stuff gets buried/not seen right away.

    Quote is from the book, the rest my thoughts.

    Circle sounds like a great idea, but i don't like the thought of my dad controlling what i access while at his house – i'm 29. But i'm not accessing porn or bad things, just chat rooms full of friends, and lgbt websites for a volunteer position, something they're firmly against.

    1. Hey, I understand that about algorithms, but I am also old enough and mature enough not to cry over someone not liking my photo or unfollowing me. You obviously are too, but the girls Sales interviewed were not. And according to them, this was done purposely to hurt people. They also talked about friends getting mad and going through and unliking every single photo…but I agree with you. And on a side note, I HATE that Instagram is no longer chronological.

      Personally, I would not be monitoring what a 29 year old is doing on the internet 🙂 As far as Circle, you can choose to have no filters on devices as well. You only need to filter and monitor the ones you choose.

  3. My kids aren’t using social media yet. I have given my oldest a Twitter account, but when he started worrying about following counts it became clear that he needed to take a step back.
    I don’t know when my kids are going to be on social media, but when they do get it it will be closely guarded.

  4. My teens share a phone. (Yes, we are that mean.) Three kids, one phone. It’s used for… CALLING PEOPLE. Novel, eh?

    We have screens for research, school, and Skype/FaceTime only.

    Mary Hannah (19 in a few weeks) has a FB account. I have access to it. She’s the only one on any type of social media.

    In other words, I agree with you– and it’s not just the sex and bullying. It’s the brain changes and addictive behaviors. Who needs the Soma capsules of Brave New World when you can just scroll on your phone?

    1. We have had a “floater phone” for years. It is used by whichever teen is out and about that day. Kalina really needs a cell phone, but she’ll get Tilly’s when Tilly heads to NZ.

  5. This is good. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Josh Ochs, but he is the author of Light, Bright and Polite, which helps parents teach their teens good social media manners to “impress” colleges and future employers. In other words it encourages no junk passes by on their social media accounts. He also has the web page Safe Smart and Social (I think that’s the name anyway) that helps parents identify not so hot apps and what goes on on those apps.

    As for our house we have lots of conversations. I have all passwords, can get on at any time to see what’s up and they never know when that will be. We have “media meetings” in which we talk about what they are on and what they are up to. It’s a time of truth I tell them, with them not being in trouble for certain things if they tell the truth. Anything I find out you’re lying about and the consequences will be harsh.

    So far no red flags in what my kids are up online. No scary conversations. We’ve had some interesting conversations about the things their friends have done online but nothing they have participated in. I even overheard my daughter tell her cousin that it’s okay that mom and dad set boundaries because she feels safer to be online and explore. Whew! Score a point there! LOL!

    And no, I’m not naive either. They could lie to me. They can delete things before I see it. All our rules could so easily be broken. BUT we’ve talked about trust and responsibility and privileges since they were small and I believe they know what boundaries they can and cannot cross.

    They do have screen time limits as well, and most screen time is only allowed at home or at school where there are firm boundaries in place (my son is at a charter school where attending is a privilege and not a right, breaking wifi rules could cost you your placement as there is a large waiting list, and he loves his school).

    Anyway this is wordy so I’ll stop there for now. I just want to say that I am in complete agreement that there has been such a change in our world in the last few years that it’s almost scary to have your teen online.

    1. Don’t apologize for being wordy! Thank you so much for sharing your perspective. I believe it is good for us all (adults) to have these conversations and compare strategies. My kids have told me of friends w/ secret FB accounts, friends offering to set up secret accounts for them, etc. We talk a lot about the dangers. I agree with you, this needs to be an open, ongoing conversation.

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