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For parents with teen children, setting limits on social media and web access can feel like groping in the dark. After all, these are questions that, for their own parents, didn’t even exist.
Beyond whether and when to allow teens their own social media account, parents also face many finer points: Should they “friend” their kids on social media? “Follow” them? “Like” them? Should parents make their kids friend them, even if they don’t want to?
How, and to what extent, should parents connect with their kids online?
“A few of my friends are so annoyed that their parents are following them because they can’t post anything with bad words or something,” says Sydney, 13, whose mom follows her on Instagram and is friends with her on Snapchat. “But I’m not annoyed, because I wouldn’t be doing that stuff anyway.”
That, according to Children’s Hospital Colorado clinical psychologist Amy Sass, MD, is a salient point.
“A good rule of thumb is that parents should have access to monitor their teens’ social media, and set the parameters around how and when they can use it, but they shouldn’t be monitoring all the time,” explains Dr. Sass. “If you don’t think your child is capable of behaving appropriately online or on social media, they shouldn’t have access to it.”
Beyond that, Dr. Sass says, what parents want from their teens on social media, what teens want from their parents and the compromises they reach largely depend on each individual family. In many ways, she says, parents’ online relationships with their teens can be a metaphor for their relationships IRL (in real life).
“Some parents don’t want to be their kids’ friend on social media,” says Dr. Sass. “Some parents do. Some kids don’t mind. Some kids do.”
On the other hand, she admits, “What I haven’t seen is a kid who desperately wants their parents on their social media, like, ‘Please, mom, follow me on Twitter.’”
Ian, 14, knows the feeling. “I was friends with my mom on Facebook,” he says. “It was uncool.”
Ian was annoyed by his mom’s use of Facebook’s message feature to tell him things like “take a shower,” but it was everything else about Facebook in general that eventually prompted him to leave. “Too much drama and political stuff,” he says of the social media platform. “It was lame.”
So what does he prefer? “Super Smash Brothers is where it’s at.”
Sydney had a similar experience with Twitter. For starters, she was annoyed that her mom insisted on reading every tweet before she sent it. And in the end, she says, “I only sent one tweet, and it was to Adam Levine as a joke. I asked him to come to our Girl Scout dance.”
Sydney is, though, still active on Snapchat and Instagram. And she says she appreciates that her mom’s presence mostly goes unseen.
“I’m perfectly fine if she likes or comments on my Instagram photos. She just doesn’t do that,” Sydney says. Although, after some thought, she confesses there might be a hypothetical limit. “Maybe I’d just be fine with her liking them, or maybe one or two comments a week. Not on everything."
“That,” she says, “would be pretty annoying.”