Tuning into Your Niece’s and Nephew’s Social Network
Special Guest Post: Tara
Cousineau, PhD, is a clinical psychologist, mother, and aunt. She is
founder of BodiMojo.com for teenagers, a health engagement platform for
teens leveraging web and mobile technologies to inspire healthy living.
Parents and mentors can subscribe to BodiMojo’s HAP*Y Pact reward
program for teens. The use of BodiMojo.com by teen girls has shown to
have a significant effect on improving girls’ attitudes about their own
body image. Tara also blogs at BodiMojo.com/blog and TeensInBalance.com.
The back to school season brings with it the annual survey results on teenagers, ages 12-17, from Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance, which is positioned to strike fear and anxiety in the minds and hearts of parents and concerned others. The report may succeed on that count. And Aunties, there’s a role for you coming up.
The National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse XVI: Teens and Parents, the 16th annual back-to-school survey is conducted by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA Columbia). A first in this year’s report, however, is the new data around teens’ reported social media consumption. Seven out of 10 teens use social networks on a typical day. No surprise there. The researchers found, however, a disturbing association of behaviors when comparing teens who don’t spend time on social networking sites in a typical day to teens that do. The teens who are digitally hooked are 5 times likelier to use tobacco; 3 times likelier to use alcohol; and twice as likely to use marijuana. They also compared the reports of teens who reportedly have never seen photos or postings of drunk or passed out teens to those teenagers who have viewed such images: teens exposed to the raunchy stuff reported more substance use.
Parents, it appears from the report, are totally out of touch with their kids’ behavior and believe social networking does not affect teens’ risk-taking. So clueless are moms and dads, asserts the lead researcher Dr. Califano in a written statement, that "Continuing to provide the electronic vehicle for transmitting such images constitutes electronic child abuse."
As an Aunt, parent and psychologist, such findings (and skewed media interpretations) startle me – but only as a reminder to be connected to what my kids are up to. I just spent a week with five middle schoolers, and I found myself putting limits on the time my nephew and my daughter (both 13) lounged on the family room couch glued to their new Facebook profiles. “Tech shut down at 9pm. House rules,” this savvy but unpopular Auntie declared. I mean really, Facebook over an old fashioned game of cards with competitive loved ones?
Parents make decisions about what their children are allowed to do. They can set the privacy settings on their social profiles and know their passwords. But let’s be real. At some point kids out smart their parents.
Enter the ConfidAunts!
Aunties, here’s what you can do:
· Look at your teen niece or nephew’s profile regularly
· Comment on postings that you find interesting – show you care and be respectful
· Begin to set up a calm and cool relationship on the social network – not too intrusive but enough to show you are there
· Occasionally “Like” your niece’s or nephew’s comments, postings or photos in support
· “Direct message” them if something inappropriate comes up in a thread
· Talk with them – in real time –if you spotted a questionable photo and make sure it is removed
· Be savvy enough to know if you’ve been quietly “unfriended” and find out why
· Use the tried and true way of staying connected: spend one on one QualAuntie time together as much as possible
· Don’t be afraid to how some Aunt-i-tude (see previous post)
The bottom line: Be authentically connected in whatever ways possible. Being “socially networked” has not changed among humankind, just the modalities have. Whether it is the Internet, TV, movies or video games, we have a lot control of what these kids are exposed to. Just be hip to it.
Tara Cousineau, PhD, is the founder of BodiMojo.com for teenagers.
Published: August 31, 2011