Should you follow your teenager on social media accounts like Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram?
Short answer: No.
Long answer: Still no, but with an explanation.
My teenager uses social media. Not all formats — she despises Facebook, as do most teens. The younger set are turning away from it in droves, calling it “their parents meeting place,” which means it's about as cool as moms jeans and white runners. It's as cool as calling shoes "runners." It is not cool at all.
Facebook scared teenagers away more effectively than the angry manager at the local convenience store.You want to see teenagers scatter? Throw in a few adults and their dumb adult humour and cue the eye-rolling, folks. As long as e-cards and grandparents with internet connections exist, most teens will continue to avoid Facebook. Instagram and Twitter are attracting teens now, because many of them like the fast pace and abbreviated posting functions. And in fairness, Twitter is great because it doesn’t take long to tell someone where to go and what to do when they get there. Also, jokes.
My teenager has social media accounts but I don’t follow her. And yet I prefer her profiles are public. Yes; that’s correct — she does not have private accounts. She posts with a pen name and she has endured lecture upon lecture about making sure posts or photographs do not contain identifying information before she publishes them. She knows that things can live forever on the internet, as evidenced by my unfortunate run-in with an old classmate who has all my "big hair" pictures. She cannot post photographs of her family without their implicit permission, and I speak for her 10-year-old brother. She was not allowed to create accounts until high school and honest to God, even I got sick of my own voice what with the online safety lectures and if you know me, you know I can talk forever. Even knowing the dangers of putting things online, I do not follow her. This is her space this is her reality and she is entitled to some degree of privacy within it.
Do I check her streams, her posts? Hell yes. All the time. Some of the time. Not often. Occasionally. Once in a while. Obsessively. My motto is "trust, but verify."
What do I find there? A lot of cringe-worthy stuff, frankly. But not “get a counselor involved” or “we have to move” cringing. Her feeds and streams are mostly your average teenage angsty stuff spiced liberally with selfies shot at weird angles and pug memes.
I mentioned a random posting of hers once during a discussion on a unrelated topic. She was upset because the matter was — in her opinion — private. Aha! Private! This is the internet, lady. If I can see it then so can anyone else. I respect her privacy and I don’t favourite or retweet anything in her timeline, despite the fact that she is as funny or funnier than almost anyone I follow. I read her timelines every so often and I would not hesitate to do so with more frequency if I noticed any reason to be concerned, like posting questionable photographs or crowd-sourcing for Ke$ha tickets.
This isn’t my head in the sand. It’s a conscious effort to have her navigate her own boat.
My parents weren’t privy to every conversation I had between the ages of 13 and 20. Although I grew up to be a reasonably mature adult, my teenage voice would have frightened my parents so much I'd be coming home to a pile of nunnery brochures. I will concede that the world is a different place than it was when we were young but I don’t believe it's so different that we need to be aware of every single move our children make. Policing their words and scrutinizing all they say will not make them better adults nor will it accelerate their maturity. They are going to fuck up you guys, and we should totally be there when they do, but not every gaffe is preventable. I am not afraid to exert my authority and shut it down if I found something inappropriate in her field of online vision.
But unless that happens, I want (almost) nothing to do with it.