Getting your first phone is the new coming of age ritual, but what should you consider before handing over the tech to your tween? Michelle Mitchell literally wrote the book on social media and tweens, and here’s what she has to say.
“I’ve noticed that it is so easy for parents to say ‘yes’ without thinking too deeply about the potential risks – after all, they’re only posting pictures of their new shoes or video calling their friend after school, right?” says Michelle. “However, fast forward a few years, and things can be very different. You may have wished you thought ahead. Boundaries do their finest work when they prevent harm, rather than respond to it.”
Here are Michelle’s top five tips for managing your tween’s social media habits, as shared in her eBook, ‘Social media and your tween’.
Never a gift
A phone is a privilege, Michelle says, not a right. It’s far better for you, the parent, to own their mobile, phone plan, gaming console or iPad and allow them to use it – provided they do so responsibly.
“This is a small but significant shift,” says Michelle. “Take advantage while you can – this will only work until they are old enough to buy themselves a phone, and then you may hear them say, ‘I’ve bought this phone so I can do whatever I want with it’.”
Crystal clear agreements
While you don’t have to have a written agreement for everything that happens at home – that would be ridiculous – Michelle does recommend a written social media contract. In fact, it’s an essential.
“Tweens need very clearly articulated rules and boundaries,” says Michelle. “I like to write technology agreements with the tween’s input, and although you will always have to have the final word, the exercise is certainly an interesting one!”
Writing this agreement in collaboration with your tween forces them to communicate assumptions they may have regarding their phone use, and express their ideas and disappointments up front. It will also force you, the parent, to stop and think about whether your expectations are reasonable.
“Nothing should be left unsaid,” says Michelle.
Insist on transparency
Asking your children to be completely transparent with you when it comes to social media can be hard. You are torn between wanting to guarantee their safety and respect their privacy, with the thought that they will disobey your wishes – “Surely they will just make a secret account?” – in the back of your mind.
“We are doing our kids a disservice if we don’t insist on transparency,” says Michelle. “Their digital footprint is real, so asking for transparency makes sense – it confirms the fact that the Internet is a public place. The trick is to ask for transparency confidently. Lay out your expectations without flinching – they can smell fear.”
For those of us who feel like we are bluffing our way through the management of social media, Michelle reminds you – ‘you have to be in it to win it’.
“Also, if your tween does fully allow you into their online world, please be respectful of it,” says Michelle. “Don’t jump on every little swear word and error they make. You will see some things you don’t like! Remember that they talk to their friends all day long without you being over their shoulder, and they do just fine.”
The elephant in the room
Both you and your children know that social media brings real challenges, but the more you talk about it, the more likely you are to save your tweens from danger.
“Parents, I promise you that your tweens are looking for an adult to delve straight into their world, ‘boots and all’,” says Michelle. “Parents often miss what they aren’t looking for. When it comes to social media, we have to have eyes in the back of our heads – and then some.”
Michelle adds that she has sat with tweens who have been viewing pornography for years, or being chronically bullied for months online, without anyone knowing. No matter how many contracts we draw up, nothing can replace our relationship with our tweens.
“We can’t stop talking openly about the things that concern us – pornography, sexting, body image, cyberbullying are just some of the issues that have the potential to trip our tweens up,” says Michelle. “We should never expect our tweens to be the first person to bring up these issues.”
Buy a radiation shield
There are so many risks that come with owning a mobile phone, but perhaps the one least talked about is electromagnetic radiation. Yes, really.
“There are enough clinical studies to show increasing evidence that there is a link between mobile phones and certain brain tumours,” says Michelle. “Because the radiation is invisible, the dangers to this exposure are not taken seriously or even thought about.”
Thankfully, this solution is simple. All you need to do, Michelle says, is Google ‘radiation shields for phones’ and you’ll find a range of scientifically-approved shields to choose from.
To find out more about how to write a social media agreement or discuss awkward conversations with your tweens, simply subscribe to Michelle’s newsletters at www.michellemitchell.org.
The Social Dilemma
If you’re looking for more ways to educate yourself about the dangers of social media, look no further than the latest Netflix hit, ‘The Social Dilemma’. Featuring high-ups at some of the world’s biggest tech companies – including Facebook, Google and Twitter – this is a great doco to watch with your tweens or teens, to help them understand what’s really going on behind their phone screen. We promise that you’ll learn a lot, too.