Personal Development and Ethical Behavior
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Should Parents Monitor Teens’ Social Media Activities

Do You Know What Your Kid is Doing Online?

This is a question every parent faces. There are a lot of factors to consider from an ethical perspective but before doing so let’s examine some of the facts and data.

Most parents monitor their teens activities on social media A survey by the Pew Research Center in 2014-2015, provides the following information.

Do parents talk to their kids about acceptable online behavior? The results are the combined scores for frequently and occasionally: (1) Behavior in their schools, home and social lives (89%); (2) To share online (82%); (3) Content for them to be viewing online (79%); (4) Content to consume via TV, music, books, magazines, other media (79%); and (5) Online behavior towards others (78%). 

These kinds of discussions can provide important benefits of instilling ethical behavior. Teens learn how to develop responsible online practices and that their behavior towards others may influence the way others feel about themselves and how they feel about the teen. Talking to your teens about safe online practices is a teachable moment.

Other results include: (1) knowledge of teens' email password (48%); (2) Knowledge of smartphone password (33%); and (3) knowledge of password on at lease one social media site (35%).                     

The results also show that about one-half of the parent are friends on Facebook; 65% have taken away the smart phone for disciplinary reasons while 55% have limited the time spent on social media.

Why social media should be monitored

Teens spend on average about eight hours per day online. The implications of their activities for their health and well-being are significant. It’s important to set the ground rules when you first give a smartphone to your teen including that they will be monitored until they are old enough to understand responsibility and accountability. You can open up more features as the child demonstrates their ability to follow the rules, meet your expectations, and understand the consequences of unacceptable behaviors. Be sure to have discussions about digital safety.

Communicating with your teens about social media limitations can build responsible behavior and they learn to be accountable for their actions.

Being online is important to the growth and development of your teen. Online activities can bring happiness; satisfaction with these relationships. It builds social skills albeit not personal communication. The give and take of online discussions can teach civility and prepare your teen for the grown-up world. Meaningful relationships can be developed online that enhance belongingness. Acceptance by others including a large number of followers, can build self-esteem. Social media communications can help to develop cognitive skills, especially understanding, deliberative thought processes, and critical thinking. In short, social media activities can meet self-actualizing needs and teach your teen to care for others.

Excessive use of social media can have addictive effects. The more you use it, the more you want to use it. Teens get used to chatting with friends, exchanging text messages, and posting comments. The posting of pictures online should be monitored to control for sexting and other explicit sexual behaviors. Words and behaviors online  that evoke harsh responses or unflattering images can damage self-esteem.

Why social media should not be monitored Social media online

The main reasons for not monitoring your teens social media activities are privacy and trust. Kids don’t want their parents looking through personal information, texts, and social media posts. Many kids consider their smartphones sacred property not to be viewed by their parents. They may lose trust in their parents if social media activities are monitored or taken away. To counteract these concerns, it’s important to explain why their behavior is being monitored and the possible dangerous effects of relationships/communications online.

Dangerous Behavior Online

Teens may unknowingly become involved in potentially dangerous behaviors on line through chat rooms, instant messaging, and emails. Online predators try to gradually seduce their targets through attention, affection, kindness, responsiveness to needs, and may be aware of their likes and dislikes from Facebook postings. They build up to sexually explicit conversations or by showing them sexually explicit material. Taken to an extreme, predators may try and make arrangements to meet your teen or engage in stalking behaviors.

Predatory behavior can have damaging effects to your teens’ self-image and feelings of self-worth. It’s important to have these conversations with your teen to be sure their aware of the warning signs and what to do when they feel a predator is in their midst.

Another reason to monitor your teens’ online activities is to teach them about cyberbullying online. Cyberbullying manifests itself in name-calling or insults, spreading gossip and rumors, and circulating unflattering pictures.

A review of the research on cyberbullying on social networking platforms shows that it occurs in 23 percent of the cases. Common social media platforms include message boards (26%), Facebook (about 12%), and blogs (5%). The anonymity of online communications makes cyberbullying more intense and prevalent than bullying in general.

Cyberbullying threatens the safety and security of teens. It can create harmful effects including hurt feelings, sadness, depression, anxiety, anger, shame, fear, frustration, low self-esteem, inability to trust others, withdrawal, avoidance of social relationships, poor academic performance, bullying others, and, in extreme cases, suicide.

Cyberbullying is a glaring example of uncivil behavior. Listening attentively to someone who feels bullied builds compassion and empathy. Parents need to work with teachers when cyberbullying is initiated by other schoolchildren. Issues such as respecting others can be discussed in the context of bullying behavior and witnesses should be urged to speak up as part of their civic duty.

Returning to the original question: Should you monitor your teens online activities? The benefits of doing so and protecting your kids against harmful behaviors outweighs the costs: privacy and trust. Ask yourself: How would you feel if you didn’t monitor those activities and your teen became the target of a predator or was cyberbullied?

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on February 19, 2019. Visit Steve’s website and sign up for his newsletter. Follow him on Facebook and “Like” his page.