The effects of social media are undeniable. It has revolutionized how we share, connect, and even educate. Since the start of social media, there has been a lot of trial and error. As a millennial, I only discovered this later in life. Imagine being born into a world where social media is an integral part of your existence, where the limitless expanse of the internet is at your fingertips from day one. Our preteens and teens have had the powers of the world wide web from the word go - and we have no prior data to tell how this is going to affect them in the long run. We are in new territory. Our youth are more pressured than ever - their social media presence can read like a scorecard of shortcomings - and it is up to us to guide them as they grow up in a highly digital world. Should teens be trained for social media? To be taught how to deal with the digital realm so they can navigate it better?
Yes. Let us dive into why!
Understanding the evolution
As a millennial, I had the best of both worlds. I grew up climbing trees, swimming for hours, and exploring the outdoors. Then, when I was 14, I received my first cell phone. Back then, our devices had limited functionality. Then came sophisticated mobile phones and social media platforms - and constant interaction was born. We stopped saying goodbye because we had never really left. But I feel lucky - I had enough maturity to deal with these platforms as they entered the arena, and I could ensure my online safety (I think) at each contrasting stage.
The perils of perfection
But I was not immune to the perfectly curated lives of my peers and the pressure I felt to keep up. Children are born under this pressure. Are these young humans equipped to do that? We all learn to read, write, and swim, so why shouldn't we have guidelines for our future generation to navigate social media? They deserve our support and protection to guide them so that while they learn and map out their futures, they can establish healthy online boundaries and live balanced lives.
Training our teens to cope with social media
The online experience is deeply personal, and we don’t want to control children – however, we must protect and train them to filter out social media for what it is. How do we do this? Responsible parenting is at play. While we must cater to their unique characteristics and personalities, there are some ground rules you can establish to help them navigate their online experience.
Being mean behind a screen is not OK. Tell your kids to treat others respectfully and educate them about posting embarrassing or hurtful messages. Also, ensure they know to tell you when others post harmful messages.
Teach them about privacy
Ensure your children follow privacy protocols and go through privacy settings together. Educate them about the importance of passwords and how they are there to protect them against identity theft. Remember to tell them not to share passwords with anyone - whether they trust that person or not.
Remind them to think twice before hitting enter
Discuss the security risk around showcasing locations and personal information online. Talk to them about how predators and criminals have sinister intentions and to be selective about the content they share. Besides reputational damage later, sharing content with the wrong people can have dark consequences.
Explain the concept and ensure teens know what to do if they witness it. They need to speak to you or another trusted adult immediately.
Teach them about reputational risks
We can’t control our kids, but we must educate them about how posting some content could bite them later on. Tell them about the permanence of digital content and how specific content can alter their course if it is in the wrong hands.
Talk about mental and physical health
Our kids are smart - our IQs increase with every new generation, as per a study from King’s College London. Start educating them about mental and physical health from an early age. Talk to them about the effects of excessive exposure to social media, the relationship with dopamine, and the importance of leaving our screens and moving.
Teach them to prioritize
Most of us are guilty of mindless scrolling or spending too much time in front of a screen. Teach your teen to get the essentials done first - exercise, homework, cleaning - once they have attended to the necessary, show them how to allot time to social media. I think we can all learn to be better there!
Use parental controls
Strike a balance between control and freedom to ensure ongoing trust with your teen. Every parent must assess their child's developmental stage, and content should be age appropriate.
Encourage an open-door policy
Your teenager must know they can trust you to speak at length about how they feel or if they are affected by any online activities.
Be a good example
Put your phone away at dinner and encourage the rest of the family to do the same. Do techless activities with the kids and leave your phone at home. Preteens and teens model what they do on you even if you are unaware.
It’s a trade-off
We need to find a healthy balance for training teenagers for social media. We must find ways to monitor and keep them safe without smothering them. We can balance opportunities for them to make some mistakes so they can learn from them while training them not to end up in dangerous situations that put them at risk for significant harm.
What we think
Social media has extensive benefits. By training teenagers to use social media responsibly, we set a precedent for them to prioritize their mental health, building a generation of happy people. As education marketers, we reach our audience digitally and understand why socials have become so entertaining, interactive, and immersive. It’s the ultimate tool to connect with our prospects, but we are also aware of the necessity of striking the right balance between the outside world and the ones on our screens. By giving our teens the guidelines to control social media, we prevent social media from controlling them. And ethically, we want to connect with our future students and find them happy and well-rounded people ready to make the right choices.
Want to know more about Generation Alpha? Dive into our blog here and read about our insights into the so-called “glass generation”.