The Times West Virginian

May 12, 2013

Teens need co-pilots to navigate social media


Times West Virginian

— It’s tough to be the parent of a teen.

Heck, it’s tough to be the parent of a preteen. Ten is the new 15 these days. Fifteen is the new 21. Kids grow up so fast, and we have to fight them every step of the way to make sure they’re not growing up too fast. It’s a constant question of whether something is age-appropriate and the constant response of “all of my other friends are doing it.”

Or have one. Or wear this.

So do you let your daughter wear that pair of shorts that seem so short? The little girl on the cover of the catalog is wearing them.

Do you let your son join a social media site against your better wishes? You’ve seen kids younger than he with their own accounts.

Do you let your kid go to that party, ride with those friends, go to a concert, stay out a little later, stay home alone? These are questions that are thrown at us every single day. And we know the immediate consequences of the word “no.” Yelling. Arguing. Sulking. Tears.

And we gnash our teeth about the long-term consequences of saying “no.” How can they earn our trust if we never give them a reason to prove their trustworthiness? Are we sheltering them too much? Will they rebel and hide things from us if we don’t let them go a little at a time?

But then we fear the immediate and long-term consequences of saying “yes,” too. One lapse of judgment, one mistake, one accident and we could lose our babies forever.

So “helicopter parenting” has made its way into buzz words, if you’ll pardon the pun. Helicopter parenting implies hovering over your child. It’s just one of those phrases designed to make us question our sanity and purchase self-help books and apps.

“Being a friend with your son or daughter on Facebook, to me is synonymous with reading your teenager’s diary,” parenting expert Susan Newman recently told The Associated Press. “Adolescents are trying to develop an identity and they have so much hovering and helicopter parenting going on, Facebook adds another layer that seems to be very intrusive.”

But Stephen Balkam, CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Online Safety Institute, wholeheartedly disagreed in the same article. He says he insisted that his 13-year-old daughter “friend” him on Facebook.

“I promised not to stalk her, but I do need to keep an eye on it,” he said in the recent AP article.

So hands off? Constantly hover over them? What do you do?

Especially after you read articles about teenage suicide after harassment on cellphones and social media sites. What if your child were a victim? What if your child were the perpetrator?

What must the parents out of Steubenville, Ohio, think following the conviction of two teenagers for raping a classmate, when the evidence was primarily collected from their children’s walls or feeds?

So it begs the question: How involved should we be as parents when it comes to the electronic devices our kids carry around in their pockets that link them to the entire world? And you know when something begs the question, we’re there to ask it on our online poll question at www.timeswv.com. Last week, we asked, “After some high-profile cases involving teens and social media, how involved should parents be when it comes to social media sites and electronic devices of their children?”

And here’s what you had to say:

• Hands off! Kids will never trust you if you don’t trust them to make their own mistakes — 1.64 percent

• There should never be a text, post or tweet that goes out without you knowing about it — 24.59 percent

• Talk about consequences of actions and monitor usage slightly — 73.77 percent

Me? I think that latter sounds like being a co-pilot instead of hovering.

And speaking of social media, this week let’s talk about whether you think that we as a society seem to overreact after major events, like mass shootings and bombings.

Log on. Vote. Email me or respond online.

Misty Poe

Managing Editor

mpoe@timeswv.com

@MistyPoeTWV