If you’re a parent with a pre-teen or teenager using social media, one thing is a must: you have to be social. In the best interest of our children, it’s not optional, it’s an evolved parenting requirement. This doesn’t mean that as parents we must be active on social media, but active and involved with the people and the touch points in your teenager’s life.
In the age of digital parenting, your network matters when your kids are on social networks. Similar to your personal or professional life, who you connect with regularly from a parenting perspective will help in many ways. Whether it’s being aware and comfortable with who your teen is connected to online, being in the know about happenings in and around school, or just having that gut feeling that something’s amiss, having a strong network will help you stay informed and respond in ways that benefit and support your child as he or she becomes more independent.
Here are six must have groups parents should have in their real-life social network:
Your Child’s Friends
This is the most important group of people to have in your network as a parent. Think back to when you were a child and the parents who were active at school, present at parties or welcoming you in their home. Being visible, knowing your child’s friends’ names and talking to them about interests and things going on in their lives not only creates a welcoming, nurturing environment, but it helps you keep a pulse on who your child is hanging out with and the influences in their lives. It also helps establish respect and accountability when they’re in your home or out with your child. And should you ever need to address a situation, be there for one of their friends or come together as a group in unity, these relationships will be golden - not just in their teenage years, but for many years to come. (Imagine the adult years ahead when those friends are suddenly ‘friending’ you on social media!)
Parents Of Your Child’s Friends
There’s no better second set of eyes and ears that can protect the well-being and happiness of your children than the parents of their friends. Introducing yourselves to other parents helps you get an understanding of the environments your child is in when they’re not at home, and provides other parents with a level of comfort and trust when their child is with you or your son or daughter. There are also situations or things you may not know about that other parents can pick up on when they’re talking to their teenager, shuttling them around in the car or overhearing them when they’re all together as a group. This is where having parents in your network has its greatest value.
And as for ourselves, let’s face it - in our adulthood, friendships form at different rates and are sometimes accelerated by having things in common such as our children’s activities and sports. We may not be destined to be friends with everyone, nor have the time; however, even if you simply remain acquaintances, knowing the adults in your teenagers friends’ lives and proactively keeping in touch with them time to time will give you peace of mind or help you know when you need to step in.
Teachers, Coaches, Principals and Counselors
A mother recently shared a story with her father about how grateful she was for her first grader’s teacher and how the teacher addressed a need and creatively empowered her daughter. Being a dad for more than 40 years, he had this to say: “Being visible at school, knowing the staff, and them knowing you, really has its benefits in how your child does at school.” And he’s right.
Most educators in the middle school and high school settings are tuned in to things going on at school and among students. Many of them will also have a pulse on the social perspective of technologies and social media students, in general, are using. When a coach, teacher or other faculty know your child and see you present, they have the sense of an involved parent, and there’s a stronger personal connection that can be helpful when your child’s in a sea of 30 to 500 other students. When your network is strong with relationships at your child’s school - even if they’re simply on a name and face-recognition basis, you’ll find yourself with an expanded support system. This group will be filled with adults who are aware and can identify and support your child’s high points, or notice a change that suggests something isn’t right, such as online bullying, peer pressure or the rumor mill. Collectively, this group will have a powerful impact on opening new doors, having performance conversations, or sometimes, addressing consequences.
Activity Leaders and Volunteer Coordinators
Similar to faculty at your child’s school, the people in charge of leading your child’s youth group, volunteer experiences, robotics team or any organized activity are important to have in your network. This group differentiates itself in that often times these individuals span vastly in experience and also age range - from your child’s peer set to adult. The individual might be volunteer or paid employee, and different than school staff, they’re in that role with the sole purpose of guiding and overseeing whatever that subject matter or experience is. By keeping in touch with these leaders, you’ll have a sense of their involvement, personality and leadership style. You’ll be able to gauge how present and involved you’ll have to be, and can drum up conversations about peer-to-peer interactions, how things went on retreats, group trips, practices, and other events. This will help you keep a pulse on things that might be shared on social media, who your child is interacting with, and things that could positively or negatively be impacting your child.
Your Friends & Family
This is probably the closest network to you and the best one to use to your advantage. Sometime’s we can be so close to a situation that we may not realize something happening in front of us. Chances are you have friends or family that are also experiencing the milestones you are or who have handled relatable situations you can learn from and chat about together. Let’s not forget, too, that this group of people can be a walking library of information for you, with knowledge or opinions about trends, apps or social networks your teenager might be using. There’s great appreciation for the aunt who sees their nephew post something on social media and either pings him and pats him on the back or suggests he heed some caution, or the cousin who surprises relatives by accidentally making it known at a family gathering that another cousin has an account on the same app or social network that she uses. These are real-life moments and a network that can make parenting easier in meaningful, simple ways.
Your Child’s Place of Work
This group might often be overlooked, but if your child has a summer job, babysits, cuts grass or is working during the school year, then this is an important group to have in your parenting network. Does this mean you have to be friends with your teenager’s boss? No. Should you be familiar with where he or she is working, and possibly even visible once in awhile? It can’t hurt. (A restaurant, theater or shops are great examples.) Interactions at work can turn into new contacts on chat apps and social media that parents should be aware of. Whether it’s an employer or people in your community that your child does tasks for, being tuned in to this environment has its benefits. You’ll have a sense of coworkers and strangers he or she has exposure to, and a supervisor might appreciate knowing their reliable employee is supported by engaged parents. You’ll also be able to identify red flags, and have more understanding and connected conversations with your child.
If there’s one thing we learn as parents, especially when it comes to online safety and keeping an eye out for online bullying, inappropriate conversations or peer pressure: we can do it all alone, or accept the help of an army.