Tweens & Teens: Social media’s impact on girls

Shannon and I both have 14-year-olds now, so we’re reading everything we can get our hands on about teens and how to navigate those tricky waters. If you have a teen girl, you may want to find this book at the library, American Girls bookbookstore or download the e-book version. It’s called American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers.

I recently saw an interview with the book’s author on a talk show, and some of the information she shared is downright disturbing. It made me want to try to convince my daughter to skip social media completely when she gets her own phone one day.

Here’s a brief excerpt from the book’s description: “What does it mean to be a girl in America in 2016? It means coming of age online in a hypersexualized culture that has normalized extreme behavior, from pornography to the casual exchange of nude photographs; a culture rife with a virulent new strain of sexism and a sometimes self-undermining notion of feminist empowerment; a culture in which teenagers are spending so much time on technology and social media that they are not developing basic communication skills.”

Yikes! Written by an award-winning journalist who is also a mother to a daughter, the book has earned a 4 1/2 star rating on Amazon and was called “an ice-cold, important wake-up call” by Kirkus Reviews.

If you’ve read other books on the teen years that you think would be helpful to moms, let us know about them! We’d love to swap tips on the best research and insights about how to guide kids through the tween and teen years.

 

Tweens & Teens: My teenager vented about me on Instagram

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Dear t(w)een moms,

My teenager recently vented about me on Instagram and I happened to see it. When I looked the next day (I was still trying to figure out how to handle it) she had deleted it. So what to do if your kid says something negative about you on social media? I’m open to your ideas! Thanks :)

mama JYou know that old saying, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”?

Well, that goes for social media too. But it’s not just about me (mom), that goes for anybody. It’s much easier to insist your kids don’t bash you on social media if you don’t condone them bashing others.

Oh, and like everything else in parenting….kids take their lead from YOU.

mama M

I try not to get bent out of shape about things like this. They are teens, and by definition are very ‘in the moment’. Try getting your point across while having a bit of fun.

Post a comment yourself. Maybe embarrass them a tad bit by venting about something yourself.

For example, if it was my teen son I’d take a picture of his dirty underwear on the bathroom floor and post ‘so gross! Doesn’t he know he has to pass the hamper on the way back to his room?!’ And then I’d tag him in it.

mama KGreat question! My thought is to approach it as “help me understand this” rather than reprimanding.

Acknowledge that you saw the post and let her know you’re glad she deleted it, but also seek to understand your daughter. Ask her to be open with you about how she’s feeling rather than making her anger public.

Tweens & Teens: Diving into social media

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We hope you’re enjoying our new feature! This month we asked our mamas of t(w)eens about how to handle social media, which is one of the biggest differences between when we were teenagers and today’s teenagers.

We asked: What advice would you give moms with have kids who are getting interested in social media. What kinds of things should we watch out for, and how much is too much?

mama KMama K: I’m a believer that social media is a reflection of our culture as a whole, so there are places we find that will uplift us and offer meaningful companionship or interaction—and there are places that could do us harm.

As we raise our children, we recognize there are some places they don’t need to be, and we make that known to them…hopefully not by paralyzing them with fear, but by having rational, intelligent conversations about what they need to avoid or where they should exercise caution. Social media is no different.

I am of the opinion that good parenting of tweens involves a steady flow of engagement in what they’re doing, but (within reason) we should allow them to guide where their interests take them. As we see what they find appealing, it’s our job to find common ground with those interests ourselves so they’re willing to share.

Social media has evolved into so many new forms, it’s not enough to just be familiar with Facebook (so old school, anyway…your child may not even be using it.) It’s likely they or their friends are on Tumblr, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter…or even (sigh) Tinder, just to name a few. If you’re not up to speed on these, PLEASE start now.

The reality is, kids with Smartphones that aren’t totally locked down with parental controls are very likely interacting with these sites. Parents can’t hide their heads in the sand and assume their children are careful online—we have to ENGAGE in a way that respects that our child is a unique individual, while offering rational dialogue (two-way conversation…not a lecture) that assures them you know a thing or two, you are looking out for their best interests, and if something becomes concerning they should trust you will be there to help and not overreact or go straight into punishment mode.

Social media should be an enhancement to real life—but not be allowed to take over. I think it’s appropriate that EVERY member of the family put aside phones during meals and conversations, while homework is being completed and at bedtime. Parents have a responsibility to teach (and model) etiquette relating to screen time, not just when kids should say please and thank you.

When social media becomes all-consuming and interrupts what needs to happen in the course of a day, or it’s causing stress for the child or other members of the family, it’s time for a courageous, well-reasoned and calm conversation that sets out some acceptable alternatives.

I think most of us want to teach our children to think for themselves, which means we have to demonstrate that their opinions matter…and we’re willing to hear them out while still enforcing and explaining boundaries.

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mama MMama M: Social media is new territory to navigate from when us parents were kids. Educate yourself about each social media site your child is interested in joining. Some sites, like Facebook, have a minimum age (13) requirement.

As parents, decide what social media site you’re comfortable introducing to your child. Create boundaries, rules and restrictions for the social media site you choose. Focus on the Family and other websites have contracts you can review for Internet safety ideas. Discuss these with your child before they’re allowed to use the site.

Use the site together to model appropriate behavior for social media. Follow your child on the site you choose with your own account. As your child gains trust in knowing proper social media usage, give them more autonomy with periodic checks.

Consider constructing “no screen zones”: at the dinner table, 1 hour before bedtime, and family time.

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mama JSocial media is one of many privileges that the kids in our house have to earn, you don’t just automatically get it.

If someone’s grades, behavior, or attitude is not meeting expectations, then privileges are removed. Because of the nature of social media, access goes hand in hand with maturity and responsibility.

Our social media rules are simple. You MUST let Mom (Dad is far from being a social media guru) be your “friend” on every platform you’re on and Mom can edit anything, anytime, no ifs ands or buts. The things we watch out for are: inappropriate language, name calling of any sort, and cyber bullying.

More than once, I’ve had to tell my kids to “take it down.” Their posts weren’t offensive or straight up in violation of our rules, but as mom I didn’t feel that they were “putting their best foot forward.” We ask our kids to run everything by this simple test (similar to the WWJD). Would this make my PARENTS proud? Would it make my GRANDMA proud? Would I say it/post it in church. So far, we’ve avoided any social media pitfalls.

Best of luck to everyone! These are uncharted waters!

Have a question for our anonymous panel of mamas? Send it to mamas@nwamotherlode.com and we’ll be sure they get it!

Tweens & Teens: When they get emotionally distant

tweens teensNote from Gwen & Shannon: We’ve revamped the Tweens & Teens category and it now features real-life answers from real-life moms who have tweens and/or teenagers. We’ve asked the moms to write anonymously so they can be as brutally honest as possible. One of the moms featured here is also a licensed professional counselor so she is tackling these questions both personally and professionally.

Whether you have teenagers or babies, this topic is one that will impact all of us at one time or another. Hope these insights from fellow local moms help you navigate this important time in your teenager’s life. Here’s the first question and answers from three smart mamas.

I know teenagers are supposed to separate from parents, but the emotional distance between me and my teenage daughter is killing me lately. How do I “let her go” and keep her close at the same time?

mama JBoy do I remember this stage! It feels terrible, but intellectually you know that it’s a normal part of growing up. One thing that helped me and my daughter was that we had a conversation one day where we “named it and claimed it.” We talked about how we both recognized what was happening and admitted that even though it is a normal stage (emotional separation), it still causes some heartache on both sides.

keep out signThe ironic thing is the way teenagers seem to vacillate between seeming SO INDEPENDENT one moment, then utterly helpless, hapless and CLUELESS the next! Giving my daughter distance when she needed (or demanded!) it, but remaining available when she did seem to need or want me around (which wasn’t often!) was my strategy. I’m happy to report that we both survived the emotional separation and are slowly but surely drawing closer together — now that she lives five hours away!

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mama KThis is one of the toughest aspects of parenting, in my opinion. I think you have to look for the victory in the situation. If your child is starting to distance herself, it’s likely because you’ve consistently given her the tools and support she needed to gain enough confidence to start finding her own way.

I’ve always said I didn’t raise my child with the intent for her to always cling to me–but instead raised her to find out and celebrate who she is independent of me. I firmly believe that giving our kids enough room to develop themselves, but with a clear message that we’re always there for them, is what will ultimately bring them back to us.

I believe the best thing I did for my daughter was to fully engage in and support the things she was passionate about–so she knew I was in her corner and incredibly proud of her–while giving her room to have some privacy and down time that didn’t have to involve me. What resulted was the development of shared passions, which formed a foundation for us that sustained our relationship during some of the more tumultuous times.

If you give your daughter the space she needs, she will better appreciate the time you’re spending together. We all know (and avoid) people who try to hold on too tight and smother those around them. Giving her space doesn’t mean you’re losing her…it means you’re respecting the person she’s growing into.

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mama MAs a parent, we’re still “coaching” our kids… no matter how old they are. One of the ways we coach is helping our kids manage their relationships. And relationships need investment. Teaching teens to have a balance between friends and family is a valuable lesson.

I’d suggest adding “functional predictability” into your family. This means you’ll have certain rituals that help people in the family invest in each other — things like “We Eat Together Wednesdays,” “Log Cabin Night (with no electronics),” “Game Nights,” etc.

Most of all, make sure that being at home with you is FUN.

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Tweens & Teens: The back-to-school clothes dilemma

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Note from the mamas: It’s the first week of school, which means your tween or teen might be asking for more new clothes, if he or she hasn’t bagged them already. To help you navigate those tricky waters, here’s a great post written by child psychologist Dr. Billy Jones of Mercy Health.

Did you know clothing is the No. 1 item purchased by both male and female teenagers? It’s true. The money.jpgsecond is shoes for girls and video games for boys. I’ve read that teens spend approximately $150 billion dollars per year on clothing alone…yeah, billion.

I’ve heard several theories about the financial aspects of dressing your adolescent with everything ranging from doing extra chores to help pay for the clothes to giving them an unlimited amount on the credit card. If the latter is you, then we need to talk…quickly. No tween or teen needs to be given an unlimited amount of money for clothing. I do like the idea of extra chores around the house, though there are certainly times when I will get something for my 11-year-old for no reason other than he asks.

When you’re buying back-to-school clothing, you need to have a budget and your tween and teen can be included in helping with that budget. Adolescents are not typically realistic with money, and this is an excellent opportunity to help give them some perspective on life.

I’m afraid I can’t give you an exact amount you should spend on back-to-school shopping, as it will depend on your financial situation and personal preference. If I had to guess (please no letters about the guess), it would be $200-$400. This is only back-to-school clothing costs and does not include school supplies. Also, this only refers to back-to-school time rather than the entire year. And, yes, I understand that some tennis shoes cost that much alone; however, they are not worn by my children. If tennis shoes cost more than my electric bill, they are too expensive.

To help understand what clothing is popular, and what is not, you can consult various fashion magazines and their websites. Magazines such as Seventeen, Teen Vogue, and GQ are good places to start. Or, you could ask my wife since she’s always up to date on the latest trends. I never thought I would compliment someone on their shoes and/or purse, but alas, I do. Living with my wife has taught me more than I ever wanted to know about clothing.

After consulting fashion magazines to see what the latest styles may be, you can search the internet for designer clothes at bargain prices. You can also shop around by going to outlets, thrift stores, and ugh…the mall.

bare-midriff.jpgDressing modestly is a must, and I won’t budge on this one. I’ve seen WAY too much flesh on tweens and teens who come through my office, or just out in public. I will say this…If a girl advertises her goods, someone will answer her ad. Guys are on the prowl and their eyes, hands, and hormones are running wild at this age. If your daughter raises her arms and her tummy is showing, then you need to consider whether this outfit is too short for her.

I have also seen parents who try to dress like their teenager, which is just embarrassing.

From a developmental and emotional standpoint, clothing is an important way for adolescents to express themselves and give a glimpse of who they are. Simply buying the most expensive, or popular, clothing does not automatically give you style. Manners, charm, and confidence (and a few other things) are required. This is the time for adolescents to learn who they are, who they want to be, and who they do not want to be.

So, let’s all be realistic when buying clothing, especially with finances…we must also be sensitive to the fact that your tween and teen wants to be accepted and, as mentioned in a previous article, wants to avoid embarrassment. Having clothing that’s similar to others at school is one way they feel they can avoid embarrassment, which may give them some sense that they’re going to be automatically accepted. Though we know this is not true, they may not have yet learned this simple fact. At the same time, they want to establish their individual needs and style, and this is the time they will do so.

Whew…good luck.

billy

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Dr. Jones is a child psychologist with Mercy Health System of Northwest Arkansas. Click here to read previous articles on Tweens & Teens. Got a question for Dr. Jones? Send it to us (we won’t use your name) and we may feature it in an upcoming installment of Tweens & Teens.

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