Online Counseling Services

Social media and what it means to your kids


The more that I work with teenagers and parents, the more that I realize that I grew up in a brief and important time in the changes of technology.  I remember the days without text messaging, Instagram, Snapchat, or Facebook.  I remember using my college-ruled notebook paper and pile of multi-colored gel pens (I especially loved the ones with glitter) to write notes to my friends.  I remember learning different ways to fold the paper so that the contents of the notes would be hidden and they would juuuust fit into my friend’s locker.  I remember passing notes in class and hoping to evade being caught!  I remember having my time on the dial-up Internet limited so that I wouldn’t block the phone line for too long.  I know what a busy tone sounds like.  I still have my best friend’s home telephone number memorized.Before I graduated from high school, my generation ushered in the age of social media.  We started with AOL Instant Messenger, then a Xanga blog became popular.  Next came MySpace and soon, Facebook.  We started to get cell phones (the flip kind) when we were 16 and began driving on our own, but not usually before then.  There were limits to the number of text messages that we could send (I remember one friend’s parents getting a $1,200 phone bill because she greatly exceeded her text messaging limit!) and we had to be very careful with how long our calls lasted, because even a 1 minute, 1 second call would use up 2 of our precious few allowed phone minutes.


I remember what was used to assess my social status and how people my age understood me in middle school: did I have the most fashionable, expensive clothes? Did any boys like me? How good was I at sports? Did I struggle in school? Which lunch table did I sit at?  The thing was, these questions were not usually very easy to answer in a concrete way (surely I wasn’t the actual, very worst of everyone at volleyball, right?); so much was left up to perception.  And honestly, it was usually possible to convince yourself that you were more or less accepted and popular, or at least that you didn’t care. When you didn’t believe that you fit in, you could rationalize that at least school was only about 7 hours of your day and you could leave and forget the people who didn’t seem to understand or care about you when the bell rang.


Social media and status

Technology, especially social media, has made popularity and acceptance so much more concrete, quantifiable, and inescapable since the days of glitter gel pens. 


Whether or not you’re allowed to have social media by your parents is only the first step in determining how cool and accepted you are.  The actual number of Instagram followers that you have is posted at the top of the page.  The individual number of likes and comments each of your posts gets boldly declares your social standing in an easily comparable way.  Your connection with people doesn’t just last while you’re at school, but follows you home at night, through weekends and holidays.  Taking the perfect picture and crafting the perfect caption can take hours.  There are unspoken rules about what to post, how often to post, when you can double tap… and everyone that you know can see and share every mistake that you make.


So many parents that I work with are terrified of the pressures and impact of social media for their children, and rightly so.  They struggle with their kids, who they perceive as trapped in the lies of social media, while the kids struggle, believing that their parents don’t understand.


I have found that because I have a proverbial foot in both worlds- the one before social technology and the one with social technology- I am able to work with parents and teens in a uniquely effective way, helping to bridge the concerns of the parents with the concerns of their children, building communication, understanding, respect, and trust.



Talking with your kids about social media

If your kids are feeling the stress of keeping their online image intact, realize that you can help them better navigate the murky waters of online popularity. There will be more written about this later on this week, but start by asking your child questions a few simple questions about what they like about their Instagram, Facebook, or whatever other account they have.

What do they enjoy doing on social media? Which parts stress them out? When they post something, who are they hoping will like it? The more you can relate to their feelings about social media, the better you can guide them towards having healthy boundaries on their own usage of these websites.

More to follow.