Living Columns & Blogs

Parents can help teens develop a healthy online presence

Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and many other social media outlets have become commonplace among teenagers and adults. As of 2015, approximately 94 percent of teens who report going online indicate that they frequent and have social media accounts, and 71 percent indicate that they have more than one social media account.

Although teens may be adept at creating clever and clandestine ways of communicating online, many teens lack the knowledge of how to safeguard their personal, psychological and social well-being while surfing the web. Additionally, when faced with instances of cyberbullying and cyberharrassment, many teens do not know how to proactively prevent, report and respond to these incidents. Although many parents are savvy consumers of technology, they often are not aware of the dangers their children face online. When their child is faced with cyberbullying and/or cyberharrassment, they are often unaware of how to help. 

The world of technology changes on a minute to minute basis. As soon as we are aware of a fad, it has already started to wane. The rapid advancement of trends can make the world increasingly difficult to maneuver as teens work to develop their identity and maintain relationships in person and online. The period of adolescence can also increase the impact of negative and positive messages received via various mediums. Social media can help teens connect with many friends from within their school, neighborhood and around the world. Social media and internet use can also encourage creativity and provide special support networks. On the other hand, social media can exacerbate psychological issues such as depression, anxiety and distress over body image. Social media can also provide an environment in which teens feel the need to create false images of themselves or bully or belittle their peers.

Teens use of social media and technology can impact how they embark upon relationship exploration and how they handle responses to critical life events such as grief and loss. Trends show grief and loss occur in multiple and fluid cultural, individual, family and societal contexts, including social media which can both help and hinder individuals who are grieving.

Talking to your teen is the first step to encouraging and supporting healthy online presence and social media usage. Parents can start conversations in every day interactions with their child, including but not limited to mealtimes, while driving in the car, watching TV or reading an article online then asking your teen what they think as it relates to social media and technology. Parents can also check privacy settings, create rules, increase monitoring, limit individual and family usage and become more familiar with technology to best support their teen. Parents can explore the different messages teens receive in the media as well as learn about the different online apps, social networking sites, resources and digital storytelling opportunities available to teens as they transition into young adulthood.

SeriaShia Chatters-Smith and Katie Kostohryz are both assistant professors in counselor education and supervision at Penn State.