Negotiating the Parent/Teen Divide Over Social Media

On Tuesday afternoon I moderated a panel of two teenagers and two parents at SXSW Interactive about how parents and teenagers interact around social media (Facebook, MySpace, etc.).  It was a pretty awesome panel, if I do say so myself.  You can read @shelbyknox‘s live tweets along with the full conversation from all attendees.  Here were some of points that I thought were truly highlights:

  • Both teenagers said their parents basically trust them online – but sometimes have issues with the way they handle themselves in the social networking space.  They also both agreed that when their parents come to them with an issue to talk about rather than telling the teenager what to do, they are far more likely to actually listen, learn, and do what their parents are asking.  When told what to do, they tend to shut down and ignore.
  • Neither of the teenagers had thought about whether future colleges, internships, or jobs would google them and look through their online activities.  Both of the teenagers were quite taken aback by this suggestion and said they were going to take some things down from from their profiles.
  • One of the parents is very comfortable with his children being present online.  He doesn’t generally look into their online lives, and assumes they will come to him if they have questions or problems.
  • One of the parents is relatively uncomfortable with her children being online partly because of their younger ages (14 and 8), but also because of her lack of knowledge and experience with the social media space.
  • One of the teenagers accepts any friend request and has a goal of 1,000 friends (she is currently somewhere in the 700’s).  She gets a fair number of inappropriate messages, which she ignores or blocks if they become bothersome.  It doesn’t really worry her.
  • The other teen only accepts friend requests from people he knows.  He has not had any inappropriate requests.  However, being male, these requests are less likely.  One of the parents on the panel has an 18-year-old daughter who has done some modeling shoots and has these pictures up on her FB page.  The father asked what her privacy settings are and if she gets inappropriate requests.  She only accepts friend requests from people she knows, and she has not been inappropriately approached through FB.
  • In response to an audience question, I said that spying on your children in online space is not a good idea because it produces a lack of trust.  Open communication and trust in the parent/teen space is what will best support the teenager in reaching out and getting help when they need it.  And, if the parent spies and finds something out about their child, they are faced with two very dissatisfactory options: 1. sitting on it and 2. confronting the teen about it.  The first one would be emotionally very trying and the second one could completely ruin the parent/teen relationship for many years.  Focusing instead on trusting communication between the parent and the teen will allow far more room for support and honesty.

I am also delighted to announce that I will soon be listed as an expert resource on the Kiwi Commons Expert PanelKiwi Commons is a Canadian-based non-profit whose mission is “to provide the best Internet safety resources for parents, educators and youth workers across North America. To encourage proactive strategies for youth and online safety through education, discussion and community building.”  I am delighted to be part of this great organization and will post more information about it soon.

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.


  1. Karen, congratulations on being listed as an expert resource on the Kiwi Commons!

  2. […] and two parents with varying levels of comfort on social media. Moderator Karen Rayne has a great write-up with highlights on her blog. The teens talked about using their privacy settings (both were […]

  3. […] and two parents with varying levels of comfort on social media. Moderator Karen Rayne has a great write-up with highlights on her blog. The teens talked about using their privacy settings (both were […]

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