No one can deny that social media has changed the way that we communicate. Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram allow us to keep in touch with overseas relatives, share photos with old friends and follow our favorite celebrities. The instant ability to connect has drawn millions of people, including teenagers to social media.
However, the rise of social media has also caused negative repercussions, such as cyberbullying and a black market drug trade. These examples are among the three reasons why you should monitor your teen’s social media activity.
#1 Black Market Drug Trade
Selfies aren’t the only things that your teenager can check out on Instagram. Teenagers can easily find illicit drugs and prescription medications on the popular, photo-sharing social media platform.
Drug dealers —usually under fictitious names—post photos of their supplies on their account. Then teenagers search for their drug of choice, whether it’s marijuana, Molly, or Xanax, by simply searching for specific hashtags.
The sales transactions themselves don’t actually occur on Instagram. Usually, teenagers contact the dealers by email or phone to place an order.
What you can do: As a parent, it is imperative that you set social media guidelines for your teenager. Let them know what posts you deem appropriate and inappropriate. You should follow or “friend” your teen on all of their social media accounts. Also, make sure that they give you the passwords to all of their social media accounts, and let them know that you will check them periodically.
While monitoring their social media accounts, you should check to see what your teen is posting as well as their friends. Look to see what your teenager is searching for on various social media sites to make sure they are not viewing inappropriate content.
If you find out that your teenager is posting about drugs/alcohol or is searching from them online, you need to look in to the situation. Ask your teenager if they are abusing drugs or alcohol. If they are, you may need to take action immediately. Oftentimes, teen substance abuse is a sign that your child may have an underlying issue, and they may need treatment.
Bullying is not a new phenomenon, but social media has made it possible for bullies to harass their victims 24/7. Through various social media platforms, teens can send threatening or hurtful messages, post embarrassing photos and spread rumors. It can provide the bully an opportunity to harass teens anonymously.
As a parent, cyberbullying is something that you should be on the lookout for. A 2011 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 22 percent of girls and 11 percent of boys ages 13-18 have been a victim of cyberbullying. However, the number goes up when it comes to LGBT teenagers. According to the 2011 National School Climate Study, 55 percent of LGBT teens have experienced cyberbullying.
Often, teens think cyberbullying is funny or harmless. However, cyberbullying can negatively affect teenagers. Cyberbullying can cause teens distress, anxiety or lead to depression. Teenagers that are cyberbullied are three times more likely to have suicidal thoughts, according to the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
What you can do: If your teenager is being cyberbullied, there is a good chance that you may not know about it. Very few teens confide in their parents when they are bullied online.
If your teenager exhibits any of the following signs, they may be a victim of cyberbullying:
- • React stressfully or anxiously after receiving texts or instant messages
- • Suddenly avoids or stops using cell phones, computers or social media
- • Sulks after visiting social media platforms
Monitoring your teen’s social media accounts will alert you if your teen is being harassed by their peers.
If your teen is being bullied on social media, document the incident and report it to the social media site(s). Notify your teen’s school if the bully is a classmate and tell them about the situation. You can also contact law enforcement if the bullying escalates or involves threats.
If your teen exhibits signs of depression or anxiety because of bullying, seek mental health treatment for them. Left untreated, depression or anxiety can lead to poor school performance, substance abuse and suicidal ideation. Learn more about cyberbullying.
#3 Mental Health Disorders
Millions of teenagers struggle with depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders. Unfortunately, many teenagers are afraid to speak to their parents about their mental health.
However, your teenager’s social media accounts may give you insight into how they’re feeling. A red flag should go up if your teenager is constantly posting negative thoughts, quotes or articles. This may be a sign that your teenager is troubled.
Negative social media posts have been correlated with depression. Microsoft Research analyzed hundreds of Twitter accounts, and they found that users who had moderate to severe depression were more likely to post negative tweets and were more concerned with relationships than users who were not depressed.
What you can do: If you think that your teenager is struggling with a mental health disorder, take swift action. Have an open discussion with your teen about the negative posts or images on their social media accounts. If they display any signs of mental illness, contact a licensed mental health counselor or psychologist. They can thoroughly evaluate your teen and prescribe therapeutic treatments, if necessary.
Depending on their diagnosis, teens may need treatment from a licensed, inpatient mental health facility.
In Their Best Interest
Monitoring your teen’s social media activity is not about invading their privacy, but ensuring that they stay safe. While observing their social media accounts may give you a glimpse into your teen’s life, it should never replace open communication between the two of you.