Navigating the Digital Age

Tips on how to speak with your child about texting and social media.

Teens and tweens are using technology more than ever. With the digital age always changing, how can you make sure your child is using technology appropriately? Follow the below tips on how to talk to your child about texting, sexting and social media.

Texting

  • Think before texting. If your teen is fighting or angry with a friend, they should not text that person until they are calmed down. Encourage your teen to talk out an argument in person or over the phone rather than through texting, since text messages can easily be misunderstood due to lack of context and tone of voice. If they decide to text, remind your child to take the time to write a thought-out message to make sure they are conveying a clear and concise text that can’t be misconstrued.
  • Teach your child the difference between what can be sent over text and what should be said in person. Your child should never deliver bad news via text – those interactions should be done in person or over the phone. Tell your child that he or she should have a conversation in person or over the phone if they know that what they want to text cannot be kept short and to-the-point.
  • Text at appropriate times. Your child should limit texting while in the presence of others as it could come off as rude and cause hurt feelings. Try to avoid texting in public places like during class or while at outings such as church, dinner, or the movie theater. Your child should never text while driving. Remind your child to also be mindful at what time of day they are texting. They should not text someone late at night or early in the morning in case the receiver is sleeping.
  • Texting does not replace face-to-face interaction. Pay attention to how much your child is texting, and remind he or she that face-to-face social interaction should always take precedence over texting. Explain that bonding with friends and others is much better and easier in person rather than texting back and forth.
  • Texting is a privilege and can easily be taken away if proper etiquette isn’t being used. Teens need to realize they are responsible for everything they text, so your child should always be kind and not gossip or talk poorly about others. Have your teen know that if proper texting etiquette is not being used, their phone will be taken away.

Sexting

  • Ask your children if they have heard of sexting and if they know what it is. This conversation should begin as soon as your child has a cell phone. If your younger child has a cell phone and doesn’t know about sex yet, explain that text messages should never contain pictures of people without their clothes on or doing acts that he or she has never seen before. Use the term “sexting” with your older child and give specific examples about sex acts they may know about. When talking to your teen about sexting, let he or she know that these texts often involve sexual and pornographic pictures.
  • Emphasize to your child that sexting is a very serious offense that has dire consequences. These consequences can include suspension from school, police involvement, and can inhibit chances of getting into college or landing a job. When sexting stories arise in the news, share them with your child so he or she can see real-life examples of its consequences.
  • Understand that peer pressure plays a role in why children and teens sext. Tell your child to never give in to peer pressure, and always say no to sexting. Work with your child to come up with ways he or she can respond if they are asked to sext. An example response could be, “Sexting is illegal and has serious consequences, so I will never take part in it.” If your child receives a sext, tell them to not respond, don’t send it to anyone else and delete it immediately. If their friend continues to send inappropriate photos, you and your child may have to speak with the friend’s parents, school authorities or an attorney. Encourage your child to be open about sexting so that you can support them if the issue ever arises.

Social media

  • Become familiar with social media firsthand by creating profiles for yourself. If your child uses Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat, create a profile for each, and require that you and your child “friend” or “follow” each other. By doing so, your child is aware that you know how to use these platforms and can see what he or she is posting.
  • Check social media privacy settings and talk to your child about the importance of using good judgment at all times. Sit down with your child and have he or she show you where the privacy settings are on each platform. Review the privacy settings with your child and update them if necessary. The more private a page is, the better. Also reiterate to your child that everything posted on the Internet is public and can have a long shelf life due to the ability to take screenshots. Because of this, your child needs to use good judgment at all times when posting photos, videos, comments or updates.
  • Keep track of your child’s social media use. Place your computer in a public area within your home and set a time limit for usage. Be open with your child and let he or she know that you will be checking their social media profiles periodically for any inappropriate content.
  • Know the warning signs of social media addiction. If your child skips meals, homework and activities for social media or you notice a drop in grades or weight loss or gain, contact your CCP pediatrician for guidance on how to help your child overcome this addiction.

Look out for cyber bullying

Seven out of ten kids are affected by cyber bullying, which is bullying that takes place through electronic technology such as cell phones and computers. Because of this, it is important that you monitor your child’s computer and cell phone activity. If you feel that your child is being bullied or is bullying someone else, take action immediately. For information on bullying, visit https://www.stopbullying.gov.

For additional resources and helpful advice on handling teen and early adulthood challenges, visit CCP’s Teen and Young Adult health resources page.