Driving some teens to the beach last week, I listened in on a conversation going on in the back seat about a new social media platform called Houseparty. My son, Garret, and his friends were talking about some girls whose “houseparty” they had joined. One kid was saying that he sneaked into the houseparty without everyone realizing it. I was intrigued. Here’s the description of Houseparty, a group video chat app: Welcome to the House, where the Party is always on. When you and your friends are in the app at the same time, you’ll see each other instantly.
Last night, I told my friend with two teen daughters about Houseparty. I told her it was likely her daughters were on it at that very moment. She immediately downloaded the app and discovered that sure enough they were on it and taking part in a houseparty on their cellphones. In a houseparty, you can see other people on your screen who are at the party, you may or may not know everyone because a friend of a friend could be on. My son and his friends say it’s a great way to meet people. Anyway, when my friend’s daughters discovered their mom had joined Houseparty, they weren’t happy. Not at all. One of them started begging for her mom to delete it immediately.
The whole situation got me thinking about teens and social media. I remember doing things as a teen that I didn’t want my mom to know about or participate in. Maybe we should give our teens leeway to do the same. Or should we?
Facebook, started by college kids, was cool until parents joined. So teens migrated to Instagram. As soon as we got on Instagram, they moved to Snapchat. When I joined Snapchat, my teens weren’t happy about it. Very few of their friends accepted my friend request. (Maybe it’s creepy for a parent to friend their teen’s friend?) My two teens told me even if their friends accepted my request, I shouldn’t look at their Snapchat stories. (I still peek) But when my two older teens traveled this winter break, it was their postings on Snapchat that allowed me to keep up with them and know they were safe.
Recently, I noticed that my son, Garret, and his friends are on Instagram Live. It’s a new feature. It worries me that going live and letting people comment on what you are doing and saying might make it easier to bully kids, intentionally or unintentionally. Unfortunately, so much of our teens’ self esteem revolves around what happens on social media — their likes, comments, acceptance into groups. It just feels like parents should be aware of what our kids are doing so we can have conversations that guide their online behavior.
As a parent of a teen, I want to keep up and make sure my kids don’t get into any trouble online. But this is difficult territory to navigate. It’s pretty clear to me by now that as a parent, I will never be able to keep up with everything my teens are doing on social media. I’m just not as digitally savvy. The question is…how hard should I try to keep up? Do our teens deserve the privacy we had without our parents hovering? Or is it different with social media?
Some friends of mine take a completely hands off approach. Others, stalk their kids as much as possible on social media. For now, I decided to stay off Houseparty and give my son his privacy. He has convinced me that joining will make me look like a creeper. But I have reserved the right to join later if the conversation in the back seat of my car leads me in that direction.
So parents, how do you handle monitoring your teen on social media?