Kristen Daukas is the Editor-in-Chief of Ten to Twenty Parenting – the only site dedicated solely to the parents of tweens and teens.
We recently asked for Kristen’s advice on how parents can better track what their kids are doing online and how to have conversations about smart, safe use of social media. Here’s what she had to say:
Tell us about your background and interest in social media.
I started my own social media/digital marketing agency seven years ago and a few years ago merged with a larger full-service agency. I focus on helping clients develop strategies and create content for their social media pages such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, blogs, etc. I speak frequently to adults on navigating the “digital generation” and offer classes (both online and in-person) on understanding the technology that kids are using today.
What have been some of the biggest parenting headaches you’ve faced related to your children and technology?
Like most parents, it’s staying on top of all the different apps and sites that come out daily. Add their immaturity, need for approval from their peers and the huge amount of cyberbullying and it’s a constant headache.
What has surprised you the most about the way your kids use technology?
Nothing really surprises me but I think a lot of adults would be surprised to know how much their kids use technology for the betterment of their lives. They can research things, learn things, participate in things across the world – there is no limit to what they can do.
Why do you think parents and educators benefit from technology training?
Being able to stay on top of what apps and sites our kids are currently using is critical in knowing what to watch out for. I’m not saying you have to be a power-user (I hate to tell you but you’ll never know more than they do) but at least knows the basics and ins and outs of the big ones.
What types of tech training do you think is most important to parents?
Knowing what your child’s phone is capable of before you turn it over to them. See if your local community college offers any training, ask the salesperson where you bought the phone, talk with your friends about their experiences, research on Google. Do whatever it takes but get some knowledge.
How should the way parents talk to their kids about technology evolve as their kids get older?
Communication is paramount in staying on top of what they’re into. Ask questions in a non-confrontational way – make it part of your morning drive or on your way to activities. Our kids are extremely protective of their online privacy so if you approach them in a defensive way, expect them to react to you the same.
How should parents be using social media to learn more about how their teens are spending time online?
If you’re not on sites such as Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. get on them. They’re free, relatively easy to navigate and in a lot of ways – fun! I love watching my girls day unfold thru their own eyes on Snapchat. You don’t have to be a stalker to keep tabs – just watch from afar (don’t comment or they’ll block you in a heartbeat) and if you see them do something questionable, discuss it face to face. NOT there.
Why is it important that parents have some access or oversights to their kids online activities? How can parents balance respecting their child’s privacy while also keeping them safe?
We’re dealing with an age group that is ahead of their time technologically speaking but emotionally and mentally immature. They have no concept of the future consequences of something that they do right now. I recommend to every parent that before you hand over that first smartphone (or tablet, laptop, etc.) that you install some sort of monitoring software or app – and TELL them that it’s there. This way they are used to it being there from the beginning and the expectations are set that you will be watching over until you feel comfortable that they’re navigating thru OK. Explain that you’re doing it just to keep make sure nothing goes wrong and then just periodically check in on them. Don’t be obsessive about it – just pop in from time to time and if you see something happening that shouldn’t be, step in and offer guidance.
The internet can be a scary place for everyone but imagine being 12 or 13 and trying to navigate that social scene?? Also – don’t cringe at spending money for a service. Believe me, it’s worth $10 a month to know that your kids are safe and learning how to properly navigate the internet.
What’s your advice to parents on navigating conversations with their children about boundaries for how they use social media?
The most important thing is to always keep communicating. Don’t be confrontational, don’t be negative, don’t be judgmental. Think back to when we were growing up and our parents offered their “advice” on how we spoke to our friends. While we resisted our parents advice, if they came to us with a calm approach that didn’t judge, we would tuck it into the backs of our minds and consider it. The minute you judge or lecture, you’ve lost them. You can talk all you want to but you will never get through to them.
How can parents stay up to date on the apps and sites their children are using? How do they know what the next trend is?
The best advice I have here is to research and ask your friends what their kids are using (if they know). You can Google terms like “most popular social networks for teens” and you’ll get results. Check the app store for your phone and see what the most popular downloads are. The answers are there, you just have to put in the time to dig deep to find the information. If you have an open line of communication with your tween/teen – ask them! Ask them what their favorite site or app is right now.
What piece of advice do you find yourself repeating to parents over and over again about kids and technology?
Communicate, communicate, communicate. I cannot stress this one, simple thing enough. It seems so obvious but so many parents just don’t get it. If your kids know that you’re coming to them from a place of truly wanting to help them navigate this world, you’ll be surprised how much they’ll listen to you. Do they want independence? Absolutely. Do they still (secretly) want your help? You bet.