Surviving Social Media – The Field Manual for Parents

[Image - Vadim Sherbakov]
Avatar photo
Written by Tim Barnes-Clay

Here’s what you need to know right now about navigating the digital minefield that is your child’s social media presence.

Wild, Wild Web

According to a recent survey*, the average parent and child have had three arguments due to social media in the last six months alone. What’s most intriguing about these figures is that the kids usually win. Nine out of ten parents capitulate to the “rules” put in place by their own children in regards to what they can and can’t do on social media.

So what can you do to keep hold of the reins? Protect Kids recommends that you enter a blanket agreement with your child on some key criteria about how they will use social media and how involved you will be. This agreement lets you teach them about responsible use and online safety in a low-pressure, conversational way.

On the flip side, your child should still be allowed to have their own concerns voiced and dealt with in this ‘contract’. Children and teens want to have fun and connect with their friends online without being embarrassed by their parents. If you can agree to stay out of their way during harmless day-to-day interactions, you’re much more likely to gain co-operation – and it will be based on mutual respect rather than force.

Build Trust, Reduce Risk

That mutual trust and openness can prove critical later on. Reports estimate that 50-90% of young people don’t even tell their parents when they’re being bullied online. But fear not! Here are some action steps to dealing with suspected cyber-bullying in a way that builds trust with your child rather than eroding it:

Sympathise and listen – don’t brush it off as “sticks and stones” or offer snap judgements.

Don’t overreact – blocking internet access and similar measures just makes the victim feel responsible.

But do take it seriously – notify the school and possibly your GP to help assess if and when mental health may be at risk.

Your actions should always be proportionate – all the more reason for opening up a dialogue and assessing the full extent of the damage.

Online predators are a whole different league of discussion, but it’s a conversation you should be having on an ongoing basis, as they prey on a child’s lack of awareness. Netsmartz suggest a range of conversation starters to have with your child. Online predators routinely exploit a child’s mistrust or resentment of parents, so establishing that rapport and non-judgemental questioning early on is perhaps the best preventative measure in the long-term.


Again, according to the survey, one in six teens have ‘de-tagged’ themselves from family photos and even asked a parent not to ‘like’ their posts. Almost one in ten have rejected a Facebook friend request from a parent – and one in five have actually BLOCKED them. Sixteen per cent of rejected parents have even been told to delete their account so their youngsters don’t have to ‘connect’ with them online.

If you’ve been blocked or otherwise shut out by your child online, an effective counter-measure is to start a buddy group with the parents of your child’s school friends. The buddy system starts with an agreement like this one. The benefit of this is strength in numbers: parents can watch out for undesirable or suspicious behaviour online even if they can’t access their own child’s activities directly. In fact, you should be doing this whether you’re “friends” with your child on social media or not!

Need-To-Know Lingo

Some acronyms online are just plain useful to know as a parent (nothing beats having the inside track!). We’re assuming you know the basics already (LOL, BRB, etc), but here are a few others worth keeping an eye out for:

KPC = Keeping Parents Clueless

LMIRL = Let’s Meet in Real Life

P911 = Parent Alert

PAW = Parents Are Watching

PIR = Parent in Room

POS = Parents Over Shoulder

SOS = Someone Over Shoulder

MOS = Mum Over Shoulder

WTPA = Where the Party At?

NAGI = Not a Good Idea

While we’re on the “parents are nearby” subject, you should naturally also pay attention to whether your child switches tabs when you approach them, or makes an attempt to hide their phone screen from sight.

There’s no harm in wanting to make sure your child is safe online and the key ingredients are still the basics: trust and transparency. If your dialogue with your kids in general is open and honest, they’ll have little reason to close you out online. As long as you all know the rules and are willing to play by them, you can quietly, calmly maintain a presence in their digital lives.

*Study of 1,000 teenagers by Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.