The New Normal: Teens & Social Media — How to Keep Your Children and Grandchildren Safe in an Age of Oversharing

All this, of course, will be mere electronic wallpaper, the background to the main programme in which each of us will be both star and supporting player. Every one of our actions during the day, across the entire spectrum of domestic life, will be instantly recorded on video-tape. In the evening we will sit back to scan the rushes, selected by a computer trained to pick out only our best profiles, our wittiest dialogue, our most affecting expressions filmed through the kindest filters, and then stitch these together into a heighted re-enactment of the day. Regardless of our place in the family pecking order, each of us within the privacy of our own rooms will be the star in a continually unfolding domestic saga, with parents, husbands, wives, and children demoted to an appropriate supporting role.J.G. Ballard, British Vogue

Various Social Media IconsWhile the preceding quote from British essayist and sci-fi author J.G. Ballard seems to describe modern-day life, it’s actually an excerpt from a 1977 British Vogue article. Eerily, forty years later, Ballard’s prediction seems to have come true. We live in a digital world, sharing only the best pieces of our lives—using actual filters—with our scores of followers. Members of Generation Z—those born in the mid-90s or later—are digital natives, meaning they have never known life without a computer at home. They communicate with emojis instead of words, text nearly 130 times per day, and have no problem sharing their lives with the outside world. Many Gen Z-ers or Centennials, as they are also called, live in a world in which they are often alone with only their devices, yet entirely devoid of privacy.

This notion of living completely in the open flies in the face of many ultra-wealthy families who prefer to live under the radar. Despite this upbringing, many millennials and centennials have tended to take the route of a certain hotel heiress. They use social media to flaunt their wealth and become celebrities in their own right. Social media sites such as “Rich Kids of Instagram” have created amalgamations of this garish, conspicuous consumption, and there are even TV shows whose entire plotlines are dedicated to documenting the day-to-day lives of the rich and pseudo-famous.

There is a danger to living in the public eye, as was demonstrated by the queen of “famous for being famous” herself, Kim Kardashian West. Six months ago, Mrs. West was held at gunpoint and robbed of millions of dollars of jewelry, hours after flaunting the jewels on Instagram and posting her every move on social media. While Mrs. West’s situation is extreme, her way of living, as predicted in the British Vogue article, is not. It is the new normal. According to Time, 92% of American children have an online presence before the age of two.

How can you navigate this “new normal” and protect your children or grandchildren from the dangers of social media? Below we outline six steps:

  1. Mandate privacy controls. Despite findings from a Pew Research Center report that most teens have a high level of confidence in managing privacy settings, the same report states that 40% of teen Facebook users and 64% of teen Twitter users have public accounts, meaning that anyone can see what they post. What’s more, 71% share their school name and hometown, 82% post their birth date, and 20% share their cell phone number. Make time for regular discussions with your children about acceptable online behavior, including what is appropriate for them to share.
  2. Follow your kids! Do you know who is following your kids on social media? If not, you should. Thirty-six percent of older teens (ages 14-17) have people in their Facebook network who they have never met. Given the amount of information shared with social networks, it’s important to monitor your children’s activity. This can also help you identify potentially dangerous social patterns and online bullying.
  3. Consider a web-monitoring tool. All parents know that as much as we might like to, it’s impossible to monitor children 24/7. Even though Pew’s research shows that teens can be discerning about what information they do post online, the internet is a two-way street of information sharing, and 82% of kids are exposed to inappropriate online material before the age of 11. That is where web-monitoring tools can be helpful. Parental control software, such as Net Nanny, may include the following features: alerts and reporting, time management, internet filters, profanity masking, social media monitoring, and pornography blocking. These monitoring systems allow you to be involved even when you’re not physically present.
  4. Don’t let your kids tag their current location or share travel plans. According to Pew, 16% of teens enable the automatic inclusion of their location when posting to social media. While it might be tempting to share pictures of an exotic spring break trip, this could make you vulnerable to theft, burglary, or other crimes. Turn off location features, and wait until you’re back home before posting those vacation pictures.
  5. Do not leave kids alone with their phones at night. In decades past, parents may have worried about teens sneaking in or out of windows. Now, though, trouble could be right next to them via smart phones. Teenagers need sleep, and constant disruptions from smart phones have been known to interrupt sleeping patterns. What’s more, the old adage “nothing good happens after midnight” rings true for smart phones. Late night hours may make teens more susceptible to peer pressure and inappropriate demands. By having virtual curfews, you may keep your teen out of trouble—and better rested!
  6. Implement digital breaks. What’s more addictive than cigarettes or alcohol? According to research conducted by the University of Chicago, social media may be. Teens are reporting increases in anxiety, bullying, societal pressure on how to look or what to wear, and “FOMO” (fear of missing out) as a result of too much social media. While teens are certainly known for having a smart phone glued to them at all times, adults are often not much better. Start small, and consider having device-free dinners. While business owners, entrepreneurs, and professionals may find it difficult to disconnect, it’s important to set the example for your family. Ultimately, your children are more likely to do as you do, not as you say.

Social media is neither good nor bad; rather, it is a given, much like teens and driving. By following these six pieces of advice, though, you can help keep your children or grandchildren safer.

As a wealth management firm, Balentine is committed to helping families stay connected through the generations. For more ways that Balentine can help your family, please contact us.

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