Host: Annie Wylie – ReachOut Content Manager (right); Special guests: Simone Cobley – Instagram influencer and certified young person (middle); Krisztina (KJ) – ReachOut parent to four kids (left)

From the classroom to the bedroom, and everywhere in between, young people seem to be on social media constantly.

ReachOut held a Facebook livestream on Safer Internet Day in February 2019 to discuss some of the concerns parents have with teenagers and social media use.

Check out the full livestream above, and we’ve also pulled out some of the main questions discussed below.

Why do young people use the internet and social media?

Social media can be a means of self-expression, a creative outlet and an open space. For Simone, social media is a platform to meet other creative people, be inspired by others, and share her own journey.

It also lets you connect to people, and has enabled young people to keep relationships as they move through life. Simone said the internet lets you connect to “that one person that takes you from being almost somewhere very bad to being okay, and realising you’re not alone.”

Why are teens so secretive about what they’re doing on social media?

KJ has found that making heaps of rules and asking constant questions can come across as intrusive or ‘nagging,’ rather than supportive. When teenagers don’t understand your intention, they can feel like you’re stopping them from being who they are.

From Simone’s point of view, it’s a lack of communication that’s leading to this secrecy, “It’s okay to be connected. It’s just communication. Don’t feel like you have to spy – just ask.”

While screen time rules and boundaries are important, there’s also an element of trust needed. KJ’s son for example, has blocked her from viewing his Instagram stories, which is where he posts about things that KJ wouldn’t be interested in. “There’s a level of trust that I need to have. He knows that if that trust is broken, if somehow there’s a backlash, then we need to revisit that.”

How can I talk to my teen about social media boundaries and the consequences of misusing social media?

Speaking with your teen openly is important. KJ tries to engage with her teens around what they’re doing and why they’re doing it, so that she can understand it better, and has the chance to give a little bit of guidance as a parent. “I feel if I talk to them and reinforce my traditional views, like ‘stranger danger,’ I’m worried that I might not connect.”

Here are some tips to help your teenager navigate the internet safely:

Use real stories that are happening in the media
Talk about a movie or news story, to spark up a relevant conversation. Being up-to-date will bring in something real for your teen to relate to, and downplay the digital divide between you.

Think of positive ways to frame the issue
Your teen is more likely to be receptive to having an open conversation if they don’t feel judged. Try saying “I want the best for you and I don’t want this happening to you,” instead of “if you do this, this is going to happen.”

Introduce another trusted adult to have the conversation
There are just some things that teens won’t talk to their own parents about, and this is totally normal. Setting up your teen with people you both trust means your teen can still get support, even if it’s not from you directly.

This trusted person could include aunts, uncles, parents of your teen’s friends, grandparents, a sports coach or music teacher, someone at church, or even an overseas relative.

Be straightforward with talking about the law
Research around sexting has found that teenagers often aren’t aware of the legal consequences of misusing social media. Having this conversation to make sure your teen knows what is and isn’t legal will help prevent problems, rather than having to deal with them when they happen.

Try asking questions to get them thinking:

  • Do you know what the age of consent is?
  • Do you know why sexting can be illegal?

Let them know they’re not alone
It can be a difficult conversation to talk to your teen about consequences, so make sure they know they they’re not alone and have support. KJ does this through taking ownership of the consequences, and asks her teens “did you know we could get in trouble for that?”

It’s important to be honest and upfront about social media with your teenager, but remember that you might not be the expert on everything here. Make sure they know you’ve got their back and no matter what, you’re all in it together!

Did you get what you needed?