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  • Writer's pictureGigi

Parenting a teen on Social Media: Where does the danger actually lie?

Ever wondered what your teen really wants you to know about social media and wants you to teach them? Well, here it is. A brilliant and insightful piece by one of our Youth Advisory members. - Gigi, 17yrs.

Schools, parents, and organisations predominantly focus on the preventative measures of educating teens on the dangers of social media. These systems use scare tactics to focus on why you shouldn't sext, have your account set to public, or engage in online bullying and view pornography. And yes, while we must educate the youth on the safety and dangers of these ever-changing media platforms, it does not extensively address the undeniable contemporary issues teenagers face on social media. While we have taught the youth how to not engage in unsafe practices on social media, we have failed to actively teach them how to respond to these situations if they do.

A young girl has sent nudes to a boy on Snapchat, screenshot it, and has blackmailed her, "if you don't send more, I will share these around" she feels she has no other option.

A boy is being bullied on social media and is embarrassed to tell his parents or the school for fear of ridicule by his parents and peers.

An older unknown man has commented with inappropriate messages on a girl's Instagram post but does not want to tell her parents in fear of embarrassment and deleting her account.

Social media is not an issue because we are not educated judiciously enough on its dangers; instead, we have failed to teach our youth how to actively and appropriately respond to these dangerous situations. This is where the real danger lies.

With parents, the problem with being driven by fear is that it often elicits an ineffective and unsupportive response.

Technology and social media being a primary product of 21st-century teenagers make it somewhat more foreign to parents to understand the relationship between teenagers and their engagement on social media. Due to this unfamiliarity, some parents cannot provide appropriate guidance and judgment on their current issues. Hence, when teenagers are faced with these harmful situations on social media, they are in a position of fear of judgment and embarrassment from their parents.

Lack of understanding and awareness of what happens on social media for young people means parents often take on a disparaging and critical response, leaving their children in even more distress than before. It is this very cyclical nature that is dangerous. This hindered relationship and lack of understanding by parents is destructive.

The danger lies within parents' judgemental and conservative underlinings that fail to actively and appropriately engage with their child's needs.

This is not a criticism on how to parent your child but rather illuminating the lack of critical awareness in effectively engaging and responding to teenagers' involvement on social media that is relevant to their contemporary zeitgeist.

In Year 9 at school for PDHPE, I had to write reports on why illicit drugs are harmful to my health and the dangers of intoxication that may lead me to get sexually assaulted. While I knew drugs were dangerous for me, I was never taught how to aid a heavily intoxicated friend. Lessons like these ingrained into my consciousness that if I had too much to drink and a guy assaulted me, it was my fault. These outdated conservative and self-incriminating teachings fail to identify and support the reality of teenagers in leading them to believe their dangerous situations are their fault, establishing an ingrained belief of self-blame. This is where the danger lies.

Inflicting fear onto the youth about the dangers and consequences of practices on social media only incites fear of seeking help. Not seeking help and actively responding to their situation negatively impacts their mental health as they are stuck in a mindset of self-blame in fear of judgment from peers and parents.

So, where does this leave us? How can we actively respond to these issues?

It is thus necessary for organisations and schools to implement more relevant proactive approaches to their education system. A young adult must present these so the students can more actively engage through a more relatable process. Using authentic and unfiltered situations that relate and apply to issues of our contemporary zeitgeist.

It is also necessary that education on social media extends beyond our youth and onto parents. Educating parents and carers on how to proactively respond to the dangers that their kids may engage in on social media will assist in rectifying the real risks of social media. Their kids will feel more comfortable with opening up to their parents about their struggles on social media, allowing them to actively resolve their problems and reduce its effect on their mental health.

The danger does not lie within the extent of our preventative educational approaches but rather the reluctance to adopt a proactive response in teaching our youth how to respond to their situations.

The danger does not lie within the number of access parents give their kids on social media but their judgemental overtones that inflict fear onto their kids that prevent them from discussing these issues with their parents.

The real danger relies on our reluctance to adopt a more proactive and relevant approach to the teachings and environment our youth are brought up through.

To achieve a cohesive awareness of how to respond to the possible dangers of social media, collectively, we all need to be on the same page and working as a supportive team instead of functioning from different generational corners of the same arena.

I am currently in Year 12, completing my HSC at school in Sydney. I hope to attend University where I aspire to study for a double degree in Property Economics and Business Law.

​I wanted to participate in the committee to contribute a contemporary perspective on the safety of social media engagement and effective for young people.

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