What most of us parents find is that after the initial excitement of creating the account is past, your child may start using their social network in ways you never anticipated. They’ll join groups that celebrate their newly emerging musical taste. They’ll “friend” people they meet on a vacation and may likely never see again. Or they’ll “like” an inappropriate joke. Photos and videos start to appear, often from the accounts of their connections and your child is “flagged” in them, so you see it in your own activity feed. What I’ve found is that if you can see all the busy activity from your child, you should actually feel reassured.
There’s a new trend or at least ability of our kids to keep us in their friend network but shield us from their activity. So you, terrific parent, are busy telling your friends that you and your teen have a “great” relationship – look, you’re their friend on their social network! He trusts you! But suddenly you notice everything seems too quiet on their end. They aren’t posting updates like they used to and you’re not seeing the two way conversation between them and their friends. Do me a favor and click on your child’s social networking page. If you don’t see the usual activity on that summary page, be suspicious.
Users of Norton Online Family can see how much time is being spent on social networks and the account names (and claimed ages for each account). The free, award winning family safety service can be helpful to alert you to problems or concerns and in this case, may show you an online disconnect between what you can see on your children’s social network and what they are actually doing.
You may find, as I did, that your child has used the very privacy settings you showed them to prevent you from seeing their posts. They can do that with individual posts and share them with just a few people or one person. They can also set up their posts by default to exclude you. Suddenly, your “trust” relationship with your child feels very untrusting.
My recommendation is to be alert for this sort of a change. It doesn’t mean your child is bad. To them, it’s probably the online equivalent of texting their friend instead of using the phone so the conversation stays private. But given the digital nature of social networks and the various possibilities of risk and reward it contains, it’s still a good idea to keep the PIR (parent in room), especially virtually.
With my own teens, once I made the discovery, there were some discussions, some denial and threats of consequences. We’ve since reverted to normal privacy settings. I still keep my promise to comment on their social networking activity only F2F (face to face) and never by adding my digital remarks in their “space.” But I’ve learned an important lesson about the changeable nature of teens, their natural desires to distance themselves from their parents and the inevitability of how this might look once they are out on their own in the adult world, only a few years away. For now, I’ll keep double-checking to see if I’m being allowed in the virtual room and allowed to observe the conversations.