How to Talk to Your Kid About Online Safety (Without Getting Shut Out)

By: Pine Rest Staff

Young teens are in the developmental stage of life were they are making their first legitimate jaunt into autonomy. They need their own social space to test out who they are, what excites them, what hurts them, and where they stand in the pecking order.

Apps such as Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok meet part of that need because it’s “theirs”. It’s a platform that is mostly untainted by us old folks. It’s a place where they can be themselves with relatively low consequences.

Now, if it stayed that simple, these apps would be great. The problem is that you add in stuff like marketers who will use all kinds of garbage to get their attention, predators who are fishing for vulnerable children, and bullies who need to knock them down in order to have any confidence of their own. Any parent is going to look at those threats and think twice.

You want to talk with your child about online safety. You want to make sure they’re safe. But how do you do that? How do you talk about it honestly without getting shut out?

Here are three quick tips to help build trust and great communication between you and your child:

1. Validate their need for identity formation

Formation of identity happens around the middle school years, which is the primary demographic for many social media platforms. It is vital that a child be allowed to explore their own space in life during this age range. This is why things like sports or music become so important in middle school – they provide a space for your child to test themselves and overcome challenges.

If you allow yourself to see social media as being a legitimate part of this identity formation, a place where they can test themselves and overcome challenges, you are much more likely to meet the dangers of social media activity with conversations like, “let’s work through this” instead of “just stop it”.

KEY FOR SUCCESS: You are less likely to be seen as a threat by your kid if you validate their need, even if you disagree.

2. Understand what actually happens online

Depending on the opinion you listen to, apps like Snapchat and TikTok are either the best or the worst thing ever created by man. The truth is it’s neither. These apps are just “another thing” full of both good and bad. Because of this, you need to build your own experience around the flow and culture of these platforms before you make up your mind about it.

KEY FOR SUCCESS: Show your kid that you genuinely want to understand the social media sites they frequent before you judge, and they will be much more likely to invite you into an honest conversation.

3. Make a safety plan together

Except in the case of a dangerous situation, try not to mandate a safety plan to your child. The whole point is to honor your kid’s need for autonomy.

If you allow them to be the gate keeper on this conversation and work on being “granted access” to this part of their life, only then will you have their buy in for making a plan together that keeps them as safe as possible on Snapchat.

KEY FOR SUCCESS: This process requires giving up some control, which can be really tough. To help motivate yourself, remember that the payoff for all this is building trust between you and your child. It shows that you can be trusted with talking about sensitive areas in their life. It may even show that your child can be trusted to set some good boundaries on their own.

Additional Resources

Need help for your child or teen? Pine Rest provides compassionate, world-class treatment at all care levels for kids.

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