I’ll never forget when this mother came to me and asked me why her kid is using all of these different social media sites. “I can barely keep up with Facebook. How does she do it?” The answer is simple. Your kids use social media in a much different way than you do. All of their friends are there and they all use it in the same way. While you can’t be (and shouldn’t be) expected to change how you use your social accounts in order to mimic your teen; insight into how they see the social media world can go a long way to help you keep them safe.
They Use Each Platform Differently
Believe it or not, there is a different way to use each social media platform. Snapchat has a purpose, as does Instagram, and even Facebook. Your teenager understands these differences and most likely uses each one accordingly. Snapchat exists to stay constantly connected with your friends. They keep up their streaks (consistent daily messages) and share the details of their lives on the private posts they send their friends. They then post the more broad and appealing snaps publicly for all to see on their story. Their Instagram is all about public posting and putting their best foot forward. (Whatever that may mean.) Facebook, if they’re there at all is for sharing the stuff they want the authority to see. It’s considered the most public of their social media connections and they use it as such. While you may take a photo on Instagram and connect it to your Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, your teens don’t do that much. Each platform has its purpose and is used in a way that it’s meant to be used.
They Use It to Meet New People
Social media has long been a great way for some of us to keep in contact or make contact with old friends. When we meet people in person we quickly go follow them on their social media profiles. The opposite is often true for your teenager. Young people use social media to find and begin relationships with new people. There are apps dedicated to this activity, some of which will even let you randomly connect and video chat or send private messages to these strangers. There are no such things as strangers for your teens when it comes to their online activities. People on social media are potential new friends to them. It could be a sense of anonymity or security that comes from being online instead of face to face that causes this attitude but either way your teenagers are meeting new people on social media all the time.
They Self Edit
I think I used the phrase “best foot forward” earlier and that’s the truth. While some of us may air our dirty laundry or share prayer requests or complaints about what’s happening in life on social media most teenagers don’t behave that way. They prefer to put forward the best version of themselves, even if it is over filtered and made up. The masks and filters available on the cameras in their favorite social media apps give them the ability to doctor up their photos in such a way that makes them seem cuter, or thinner, or smoother complected. They write their descriptions to portray the same image. They’ll do their best to come up with the most clever caption for their photo or they’ll use the emoji that is the most popular and interesting to get the reaction that they want. The most common practice is deleting or archiving posts that don’t get enough likes. Not only do they edit themselves before they post, they’ll edit their entire account by only allowing posts with the most likes and comments to continue to exist. Young people use social media to portray the version of themselves they want everyone to think is truly them. This is probably one of the main reasons they live on social media.
They Live There
You probably remember when you started using Facebook or Instagram. You can probably go back in your photo archives and find the first few pictures you took with a Snapchat style filter or mask. For most of us, social media is something that we’ve added to our lives and we use it to document and share much of what we do in our lives. For your teen, though, the realities can often become blurred. Many teenagers live on or through their social media accounts. Since the version of themselves they’re showcasing on social media is the filtered and edited version, teens often prefer to experience that life to the one they live offline. When I speak to teens, I always remind them that their online lives and offline lives are one in the same but they rarely put that together on their own. Any thing that happens to them MUST be shared. Many times they’ll even make decisions about real life based on what it will look like when they share it online. They aren’t like us. We’re talking about digital natives, the world they live in is a gray area between what’s done on the internet and what is done every day in real life.
What Parents Should Know
There are many ways that teens use social media differently than their parents. These are just a few examples but they should be eye opening ones. The only way to help our kids understand the blurred vision they can often have is to gently advise them as to what is healthier. Have conversations with them about what they could do instead of worrying so much about how they represent themselves online. Help your kids build confidence by using your own words and actions to show them how much value they have. The generation of teenagers that are growing up today have a confusing road ahead of them and moms and dads (or aunts uncles grandmas and grampas) are the only ones who can help them unravel the confusing path they have to travel.