By: Susan Smith Powers, Dean of Students
Peer socialization is very important for all of our pre-teens and teens. We all know these are difficult social times, but they are especially difficult for our students. During a regular year, our students have many opportunities to explore friendships and connect with peers in a structured and safe environment. Students meet different peers during their varied classes, enrichment groups, lunch in the cafeteria, recess/hanging out on the playground as well as during after school programming. Unfortunately, many of these are on hold due to our many restrictions brought on by COVID. In addition, due to our cohort model, students are often with the same peers during much of the day. Because of this, many of our students have worked hard to maintain their connections after school through social media and technology. Social media and technology can be a welcomed addition to those who are stuck at home or live far from their friends. However, social media and the use of technology can also create difficulty for our teens and pre-teens who want more independence but don’t quite know to manage it.
Many parents struggle with how much they should be involved when their teen is using social media or technology to connect with peers. How do you know whether your child is managing it well or needs help? Of course, there is no “one size fits all” model for social media. Ask yourself “how much support does my child need (no matter their age)? Be aware of your teen’s mood after spending time with peers on social media. Have you ever noticed increased drama, tears or anger after being online or after texting/Facetiming/gaming with peers? This may be a clear signal that your child needs more support or guidance with social media/technology. Talk to your teen about group chats/FT calls/texts. Many of our students are successful when they spend 1:1 time together but struggle when they need to negotiate many friends at the same time. If group connections are causing anxiety or drama, limit your teen’s digital connections to 1:1 time.
Margie Daniels from Massachusetts Partnership for Youth (through the Attorney General’s office) suggests that parents be involved as much as possible by setting clear rules for computer use and monitoring their child’s social networking sites on a regular basis. She believes teens need structure and guidance to navigate their social world as well as keep them safe in the cyber world. Some tips include:
Get to know your pre-teen’s/teen’s friends and their parent/guardian. Call to introduce yourself. If any issues arise later, it will be easier to call and talk about it.
Write down and go over internet/device rules with your pre-teen/teen (only text/chat/game with peers that you have met in person, don’t say/type anything you wouldn’t say to someone’s face, never give out personal information, don’t share your passwords with anyone)
Let your teen know that you will be checking their phone, texts, chats and all devices to make sure they’re following your rules (Teens should not expect privacy because they will make mistakes and can learn from them).
Let your teen know that if they receive or witness any concerning or inappropriate information or behavior, they need to tell you and won’t get into trouble.
Educate yourself about the websites, gaming sites and apps that your teen uses, learn how to change privacy settings (if there are any) to keep your teen safe
Some resources to check out: