main logo

Risky Social Media Parents Should Know About

It’s not a secret that I’ve been slow to the social media party, but some disturbing trends I’m seeing in my office are motivating me to quickly become better informed. Recently, I’ve had a number of patients who are engaging in risky behaviors and/or self-harm introduced to them by others on social media. Teens are connecting with other teens on social media and “teaching” each other about trying things like cutting, smoking (vape, ecigs., etc.), methods of suicide, etc. I’ll ask a teen who is cutting (the self-harm act), where did you hear about cutting, and often the answer is “social media.” While there is a lot of good that can and does happen on social media, it’s important to be informed about what your teen is engaging in. When you are informed, you can help your teen navigate social media and make safe, smart choices.

Social Media Basics

If you are new to social media, here are the quick basics:

Social media: Is an online technology that allows people to connect to each other and share information in a virtual community or network.

A hashtag (#, the number sign) is a label or tag used on social networking sites to allow users to find messages with a specific theme or content. It’s worth understanding how this works as teens often use hashtags to seek out other users who may be engaging in similar behaviors/interests (both good and bad).

Popular sites

This list isn’t, and can’t be completely comprehensive, but gives you a general knowledge. I included how the site/app generally works. At the end of the list, I added a few that you as a parent may want to steer your teen clear of (due to potential for danger).

Facebook (social network), also Facebook messenger (for messaging)

Twitter (real-time public microblogging)

LinkedIn (Professional/career social networking)

Google+ (social network with communities and collections focus)

YouTube (video content sharing)

Instagram (photosharing)

Pinterest (visual collections on “boards”)

Tumblr (sharing visual content—used mostly by teens, essentially a streaming scrapbook)

Flickr (Yahoo’s photo sharing network)

Swarm (social location tool)

Potentially risky sites

FYI, these are just a few I know of, there are likely dozens more out there that pose significant risk to vulnerable teens. In reality, any social media site can be risky.

Snapchat (instant messaging photos that automatically disappear)

Kik (chatting platform-sharing texts, photos, GIFs, videos, can be anonymous as you don’t have to have real names)

Yik Yak (geographically anonymous social sharing) (social site where kids ask questions and post answers, can be anonymous)

Omegle (anonymous client chat, often filled with chats containing profanity, sex, drugs, and alcohol)

Whisper (a social confessional app, intended for those >17 yrs). Posted info can be heavy, inappropriate, sexual, and profane.

Burn Note (a text only app that erases after a set amount of time, the trick is that it shows only a word at a time, so it feels secretive).

Line (an all-inclusive social app with text, video, voice messaging, games, and group chats). Has a “hidden chat” feature with temporary messages.

YouNow and (live video streaming apps)

Anonymous Apps

Sounds appealing at first to be able to express yourself or ask a question without fear of people know you or making fun, right? The problem is it is a recipe for inappropriate posts. People, especially teens, say much more than they should when they don’t think anyone knows who it comes from. There is lot of cyber bullying, mean comments, and inappropriate sexual posts that happen with anonymous social media.

Temporary Apps

These apps are designed to have the posted info disappear after a set amount of time. The risk is inappropriate posting (similar to anonymous apps). People are more inclined to post or send something that they think won’t last or be traceable. The problem is that everything is traceable (who’s to say the receiver didn’t take a screen shot?). I’ve had a handful of patients get in trouble with the law from sexting while using temporary apps. These apps are harder for parents to track what teens are sending and receiving.

Live video streaming apps

These apps allow teens to stream and watch live broadcasts. The risks are plentiful. Teens overshare (often without realizing the risk in revealing identifying/personal info). Also, because it is live, teens can respond in the moment to viewers in order to gain popularity which as you might imagine can lead to poor judgment.

Tips to teach the teen who already “knows it all”

  1. Internal apps (apps within apps) are often selling something. Help them understand how they are being marketed to. They may not know that “promoted chats” are actually advertising. Teens are usually offended by this once they realize it (because no one wants to feel like they are being profiled or duped).
  2. Understand how different apps settings work. They may inadvertently share content with more people than they intended (things get sent to entire groups instead of just a few select friends).
  3. Anonymous and temporary sites are not quite what they seem. There is always a way to track who sent something and what they sent. Advise a teen not to post something that they wouldn’t have a problem with you, a future boss, or an officer seeing.
  4. Everyone has heard of “online predators,” but teens may not know that it more frequently happens in chat rooms where teens are engaging in sexual conversations. Teens are also naturally naïve and have a sense of being invincible. This is a set up for being careless about sharing identifying information.

Parent Tips

What works for one family, doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. Some teens are more naturally drawn to engage in risky behaviors, while others steer clear. Some basic tips apply to everyone.

  1. Know the sites/apps your teens are engaged in. Anticipate the risks involved in the site.
  2. Be in your teen’s group of “friends” or “followers” when applicable to the social network. This way you can see what is being posted (and help guide your teen through what’s appropriate and not appropriate).
  3. Set limits. This may include allowed apps, how much total media time, media curfews, media free zones, etc. Kids respond best when expectations are clearly outlined.
  4. Establish consequences (ahead of time) for not staying within outlined limits.
  5. Don’t be afraid to say no, turn it off, and cut off access. If the situation is out of control, reign it in. And say what all parents say at some point, “You’ll thank me later.”

Being a teen in this day and age can’t be easy. I had a great teenage experience, but it may have been entirely different in light of social media (where anyone can instantly share every embarrassing or stupid thing you may do). Helping teens navigate waters that we’re just learning to swim in can be tough, but we’ll figure it out together. Good luck.