By Chester Goad Ed.D.
There are many ways teens can damage their own reputations without our help. After all, their frontal lobes aren’t even fully developed, so they are in a sense, biologically bound to make mistakes. Making poor choices, rash decisions, and acting impulsively are all teen trademarks that contribute to the reputation they are slowly self-constructing. The key is limiting the damage. Have you ever considered though, that as a parent you may be placing your kids’ reputations at risk? You may be contributing to a self-fulfilling prophecy they had no hand in making.
Social media has become a place where images or personas are created and destroyed. Perception often becomes reality to those engaged in the very public platforms of social media. What parents choose to post about their children often has a much wider reach than friends or loved ones, and what parents choose to reveal or post about their kids is what others learn about them. That is sometimes the only “person” others come to know. Is it genuine? Is it positive? Does it build up or tear down? Below are five social media parenting pitfalls to avoid if you desire to protect and preserve your teenager’s reputation.
Pitfall #1: Avoiding the Social Media “Talk”
These days, a discussion about social media’s impact on reputation development is just as necessary as discussing how babies are made. At an age-appropriate juncture, parents should discuss the possible dangers of social media as it relates to reputation and perception. Poor choices on social media can cause problems at home, church or school. Some choices can have a negative impact on future opportunities or even relationships. Parents and students should become familiar with their school’s social media policies which typically vary in scope and consequence but exist to protect not only the reputation and safety of students but of the school as a whole. Have the talk. Discuss what is acceptable and appropriate. Parents who avoid intentional social media discussions are putting their kids at risk.
Pitfall #2: Traumatic Post Disorder
Not every parenting moment should be posted online—especially stressful ones. We’ve all seen the videos of fed-up parents hammering cell phones or mowing over video games. Some of them can seem humorous, and maybe they’re meant to be. As a parent though, it’s important to remember that you are the protector of your child’s image. Venting about your children, posting their indiscretions, or shaming them through social media may have lasting or unintended consequences on the family. It may also damage peer relationships, or incite bullying or taunting from peers. Discipline can be just as effective or memorable without providing the world a front row seat. Besides, do you really want to be known as hammer dad or mower mom?
Pitfall #3: Tag Temptation
It’s very tempting as parents to tag our kids in funny pics. After all, we just want our friends and family to get a good laugh too right? Typically that’s pretty innocent. Some families have strict rules about social media content though, and some do not participate in social media at all. Some parents are cautious or even caustic about photos of their kids being placed online and still others prefer to monitor the types of content posted. What you may view as a harmless laugh could actually complicate relationships or damage respect for your teen. We never know how peers will react, or how their friends or foes might choose to use that photo you tag. Being mindful and respectful of the wishes of your teen’s friends or their parents doesn’t make you a prude, it makes you a good friend, and an even better parent. A good rule of thumb before posting a video or tagging a pic is to ask yourself, “If the roles were reversed and my teen was the one with the camera, would I want this pic or video posted?” –Go with your gut.
Pitfall #4: Alternate Universe Syndrome
One notable flip-side is that Social Media platforms do allow us control over what others see. We get to be the filter. Most of us prefer others see the positive side. The attractive side. The entertaining side of our lives. Part of the fun of social media is sharing fun times, special moments, and yes, even great photos. The downside or unintended result of that may be creation of a false image of bliss, or a life that is unrealistic, unattainable or free of problems. We may even be shackling our kids with expectations they feel they’ll never be able to meet or do not want to meet. Social media perception is just one glimpse into your teen’s life. Social posts or video representations alone are never a true reflection of the young man or woman you’re raising. Most people don’t set out to create an alternate reality online for their kids, but it happens. Set a goal to live authentically and if you choose to post and share be mindful of authenticity and unnecessary anxiety, pressure, and expectation.
Pitfall #5: Loose or Nonexistent Monitoring
Many parents are simply unaware or uninterested in the diverse social media outlets that exist, but your teen’s reputation and safety are at stake. It’s prudent to be in tune with current platforms and apps and know how they work. Do your homework and learn each platform or app’s intended (or unintended) purpose. Consider developing a social media contract with your teenager—help your teen understand that social media accounts are a responsibility and a privilege even if they don’t seem so. Discuss what is and what is not appropriate. Set some rules and boundaries and then actively monitor (Don’t stalk or snoop. Monitor.)
…Speaking of monitoring…You’ll also want to research the actual account settings in your child’s social media account. Many platforms include GPS locator which can be a double-edged sword. Of course you want to know where your kids are, but do you want the world to know? There are many safety apps and provider parental controls parents might consider as an alternative to GPS location settings in social media. Oh and by the way parents, if you’re not familiar with Snapchat or YikYak get familiar quick. Both apps when misused wield the power to destroy reputations, and do so daily.
About the Author: Dr. Chester Goad is a university administrator and former US Congressional staffer. He is co-author of Tennessee’s “Dyslexia Is Real” law and author of, “Purple People Leader: How to Protect Unity, Release Politics, & Lead Everyone”. An experienced speaker on parenting, learning and leading, he has been quoted in a variety of media outlets such as CNBC, Yahoo Tech, US News, and more. Learn more about Dr. Goad at www.purplepeopleleaderbook.com.