It is rare that I meet a girl who doesn’t have a phone in her hand. She usually has at least one eye on her online status while she is talking to me. Some may find this rude, but I personally don’t. I understand why. If teenagers aren’t online they don’t exist, so they stay connected 24/7. They don’t want to be invisible, just in case they miss out.
Our daughters have a love – hate relationship with their phones. They can’t live happily with them but they also can’t live without them. They admit to being addicted. In fact, the average teenage girl sends 4050 texts per month[i]. That is more than six texts per waking hour! That is why they need us (rather than want us) involved in their online world. Without us it is highly possible they could lose their way.
Mums tell me that although their daughters may not be sending nude images or talking to paedophiles, they are constantly distracted and disengaged. They are not paying enough time to their schoolwork, family time or day-to-day jobs. It’s like this generation is in a relationship with their phones instead of being in relationship with the people who love them. They are not present in their actual lives.
Dealing with a social media obsessed teen is tricky. Let’s face it there are no magic solutions to social media. It’s a real battle for every family. Here are my top six strategies which I find critical for parents of teens under the age of 15 to focus on. If you do nothing else when it comes to social media, these are a must!
Never A Gift
If you buy your daughter a mobile phone (or phone plan) as a gift it is really difficult to take that gift back. After all she will argue that a gift is owned by the one who received it! That is why I suggest that parents own all technology in their home and give their children the privilege of using it if they use it responsibly. If the parent owns technology they are also free to install any safety software they feel necessary.
Crystal Clear Agreements
I think it is ridiculous to have a written agreement for everything that happens in a home. I am not personally great at keeping checklists or my kids’ chores on whiteboards or charts. I prefer a bit of random chaos. But when it comes to social media a written contract really is essential. Nothing should be left unsaid.
Buy A Toolbox
Parents have said to me that no matter where they hide their daughter’s phone they always find it. So, there are times when I have suggested it is in everyone’s best interest to buy a toolbox from a hardware store, that has a lock and key. During family times, meal times and homework times the phone goes into the toolbox.
Schedule Time to Check Accounts
In the busyness of life parents often forget to keep connected to what their girls are doing online. They assume all is okay, and sometimes it just isn’t! It is a good idea to schedule regular times to check teens accounts (and google their name). Installing the right safety software on technology will eliminate the need for you to have their password. Getting teens passwords is a nightmare!
Set a Shut Down Time
The amount of girls who sleep with their phones in their bedroom, and even under their pillow, astounds me. Please schedule a shut down time and ensure phones are charged in a place where they aren’t accessible. Our daughters need uninterrupted sleep! I would suggest an 8.30pm shut down time to allow them time to unwind before bed.
Talk About the Elephant in the Room
Our daughters do face real challenges online. We know they are there. They know there are there. We just don’t talk about them very much. The more we talk about the elephant in the room the more likely we are to save our daughters from danger. Parents I promise you that your girls are looking for an adult to delve straight into their world ‘boots and all’.
The reality is that nothing will test your relationship with your daughter like social media. Social media gives our teenagers an opportunity to rebel. It ticks all the boxes. It is an area where teenagers have power over their parents and it is easy for your daughter to exercise that power. That is why no strategy can replace our relationship with our daughters. When it comes to social media, relationship is everything!
[i] The Nielsen Company. (2010). U.S. Teen Mobile Report. Retrieved from: http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2010/u-s-teen-mobile-report-calling-yesterday-texting-today-using-apps-tomorrow.html
Michelle Mitchell is the founder and CEO of Youth Excel, a charity which helps young people make positive life choices during difficult times. As a national speaker, Michelle has a unique ability to transfer years of knowledge and experience to people of all ages and professions. Her latest book Parenting Teenage Girls in the Age of a New Normal is out now and available globally. For more information vivist www.michellemitchell.org.