teenager looking at phone

Every parent should have all of the passwords and usernames on their child’s phone as well as those on their social media accounts. Parents often ask how to do this without creating a blow up at home or sending the message that they do not trust their child.

The most important thing to remember is that having usernames and passwords is about safety, not trust.

As a parent, you are charged with protecting your child, and you can’t protect them from what
you don’t know. There are communication strategies that will likely limit conflict when talking with your child about the importance of having their usernames and passwords.

While each child is different and each parent has their own style, here are some communication tips that can reduce the likelihood conflict and misunderstanding:

  • STAY CALM. Body language and tone/volume of voice are very important.
  • CLEARLY EXPLAIN WHY THIS IS SO IMPORTANT (your primary job as a parent is to keep

    your child safe and teens often react better when they understand your motivation).

  •  SMART NEGOTIATION WORKS WITH TEENAGERS (give and take to create a win-win).
  •  AVOID LANGUAGE THAT WILL ENGAGE OR START A POWER STRUGGLE (e.g.”because I said

    so” or “because I am the boss”).

  •  STAY CALM (again, this is the most important thing you can do).

For those parents of 9-11 year-olds who are getting their kids their first smartphone, this is simple.
Your child’s desire to have the device will likely be enough to diffuse any potential arguments. Getting their first smartphone presents the perfect opportunity to start the dialogue about online safety. It also is the time to teach your child about privacy settings and to show them how to be sure each social media account is set to “private.”

You should explain the potential dangers that exist in cyberspace, but talking about them simply is not enough. Use real life, age appropriate examples of the consequences of making mistakes in cyberspace. Unfortunately, most of us likely know someone personally who has experienced some negative consequence related to social media use.

You also should explain that if anything ever happened to them, the information on their social media accounts could be necessary in order for you to be able to help them.

It may be more challenging to convince your teenager, who has had a smartphone for months or years, that having their usernames and passwords is imperative, but it is not impossible. They are likely to ask “why now?”

As we continue to hear media reports of cyberbullying via social media, sexting that goes too far, teen suicide as a result of public humiliation, and bright futures ruined by one impulsive post, it has become dangerously clear that as parents, we need to be smarter. 

In any conversation where two parties want something different, there is always a space to negotiate from, you just have to find it.

THE NUMBER ONE THING THAT WILL REDUCE THE LIKELIHOOD OF A HUGE
ARGUMENT IS YOU.

You have to stay calm, even if your teen starts to escalate. Lower the volume and tone of your speech and slow the conversation down.

If your teen has not yet demonstrated behavior that concerns you, being flexible about the information you will have access to is your best bet. For example, being able to view your son’s exact location in real time is necessary for obvious safety reasons, but viewing posts on Finsta might be something you can let go of.

ACTIVE LISTENING VS. PASSIVELY HEARING

Ask any teen what bothers them the most about their parents and you will likely hear “They don’t listen to me.”  Ask a parent about that and they will likely say, “I hear everything they say.”

Parents, you are not doing a very good job convincing your teen that you are listening. 

Actively listening involves all of your senses. You have to show the speaker that you are actually listening using body language, as well as words. Maintain eye contact, lean in or toward the speaker, don’t interrupt and pause after your teen finishes speaking. Use the “play back” tool to prove you have heard them, “What I hear is that you want/need _____” or  “I understand you are concerned with______, did I hear that correctly?”

Remember, everybody wants to win, and the way to create a win-win situation is to negotiate. Find the things or the privileges that are important to your teen, decide what you can safely give up and negotiate from there.

When social media was first introduced, we had no idea where the dangers might be or what the consequences might look like. As with any other new cultural phenomenon, it takes time to see the effects, to evaluate the problems and to adjust our parenting strategies.

We have more information now, and smarter parents are using every tool available to actively parent in cyberspace. Passively parenting in the space our kids spend most of their time is simply not working.