Your Tween Has Figured Out How To Be Social Without the Social Media
Remember How Simple It Was
[tap…tap…tap…] Don’t bother looking behind you…that sound is one of those tiny little pebbles, plinking against the panes of glass in your second story window. It’s faint enough that only YOU can hear it. During summertime, they would bounce harmlessly off the screen but you could still hear it.
Someone was trying to summon you, It was usually some boy hoping to gain your attention during the night hours. Back then, contacting someone clandestinely usually involved being at their physical location, standing in the shadow of some massive tree in the front yard, or climbing an arbor by the front porch swing. This added to the excitement because you could actually be discovered. This also made you ask yourself the question “Is this really worth it?” Even then, it was a day and age in which we still knew to lock our doors when night fell.
Social Media Dilemma
It's easy for us to forget these days that very little communication happens in person when it comes to teens unless they go to school together. Unless we are proactive, it doesn’t matter whether we lock our front door or whether we have the latest in security systems, most unknown persons aren’t going to contact your 12 year old that way, they’re going to use an app.
“Not me,” comes the protest, “I have my kids phone LOCKED DOWN tight!” That’s a great start and it’s going to help quite a bit. Like everything else, including driving a car, we don’t just hand them the keys and expect them to figure it out. Nope, you have to sign an affidavit stating that they’ve had 500 hours driving experience before they’re able to get that license. Wouldn’t it be great if we required that of social media as well? 500 hours of training on how to fight jealousy, what to do if someone says they’re on the bring of suicide and they expect YOUR TEEN to help them. I have heard a case where someone threatened to commit suicide unless she sent them an inappropriate photo.
ALSO, did you know that often teens will download and then delete the app immediately to keep parents from discovering it? Yep, you read that right. TO millennials and Gen X'ers it sounds like a lot of extra work, but to GenZ, they know it's a breeze AND an easy way to cover their tracks so it's not discovered.
There are LOTS of resources for parents on how to help our teens navigate these successfully, I have even written a blog post on the danger of SnapChat, and other apps that tout the ability to make communication and photos disappear, but we’ve learned that isn’t even true the pictures don’t actually disappear.
How Are They Doing This?
Since most teachers and some schools have banned the use of cell phones in class, it has caused teens to be more creative in how they communicate. In some cases, teens are using the chat function of Google Docs while working on their laptops or Chromebooks. Google Docs is a program that educators have been using to share work with students so they can follow along in real time. Since it is being used in the classroom it is approved by schools and parents are none the wiser. The other things teens have access to are SHARED DOCS. All they have to do is start a document then open it up to be edited by others. They can either have ongoing chats, share pictures to the document and it can even be shared and edited privately.
"We don't really pass physical notes anymore," Skyler (a pseudonym), 15, explained to The Atlantic. They're using the approved Google Docs to chat in the margins as comments, or they're creating new docs entirely. "People will just make a new page and talk in different fonts so you know who is who," Skyler said. "I had one really good friend, and we were in different homerooms. So we'd email each other a doc and would just chat about whatever was going on." When teachers walk by to see what a student is working on — again, following along in Google Docs is often encouraged — it's easy for a student to delete all signs of chatting. Often just selecting "resolve" on the live-chat function will do it.
What to Look For In Your Teen (Some of the signs)
I can often spot a middle school or high school student who is struggling. They have this 1000 yard stare and a bewildered look of having seen something that they don’t know how to process. Other times there is a personality change that seems to happen. The once sweet, attentive kid is not very guarded and almost at times seems angry. Carrying around shame and guilt is heavy and they struggle with being able to hide their struggle (I personally think this is good. I don't want my kids to get good at hiding anything).
Whether it’s p*rn or inappropriate contact from a peer or a stranger, it’s a look. They will often say things like: No, I’m just tired or I’m fine accompanied by an annoyed look or body language communicating that they are done talking about this. Sometimes your teen may offer a "lesser problem" to deal with. This is especially true if they sense you don't really want to talk or are too busy. It's a win-win because you felt helpful and they got help with something (albeit lesser) that they've been thinking about. If you sense something is "off" LISTEN to that voice. I tell moms all the time, the Lord has given you special insight into your kids that no one else has. It's like "MOM SPIDEY-SENSE."
If you’re overbearing you’ll demand they tell you what’s going on rather than providing a safe space to open up. Providing a safe space is the only way to find out the extent of what you’re dealing with. Go into the conversation with much prayer and be wiling to sit through some awkward silence as they try to find out how to say something they feel is going to get them in a whole lotta trouble. OR create a culture of sharing in which they know they can come to you without the over reaction of most parents.
If you don’t already have screen time set up on their iPhone you’re missing out on a valuable tool that breaks down their phone usage. That’s the easiest way to see which apps they are struggling with.
See how many pickups they have, that's often a sign that they're dealing with some anxiety or peer pressure. It's an obsessive compulsive checking of the phone and what they don't realize is that they won't find peace on that tiny little screen unless they're looking at a Bible app.
Here’s What You Can Do
(A Guide from CommonSense Media)
Here are some of the popular platforms you may not have realized kids are using to chat.
Animal Jam. To sign up for this virtual world, a kid only needs to enter a username and password -- no parent approval required -- and they can chat immediately after creating a login.
What you can do. Though Animal Jam uses filters and human monitors to keep a lid on iffy conversations, kids can be fairly inventive in getting around them. If you want to let your kid play on Animal Jam, it's worth going through the step of registering your email address to access its free parental controls. You get three levels of chat ranging from pre-approved phrases to open chat, but you can't limit their chatting to friends only.
Google Docs. Although teachers have been aware of the problem, using Google Docs as a covert messaging app has finally gotten popular enough to get on parents' radar. If your kid needs to use Google Docs for homework, they only need to share the document with someone to start chatting.
What you can do. Chatting in Google Docs is mostly risky because it wastes time kids should be using to do actual work. But there have been some reports of kids cyberbullying other students in Google Docs shared for group projects -- partly because it's a place no one would think to look for that kind of behavior. In general, you want to make sure your kid is using their time wisely and not getting caught up in idle chitchat or drama. If the chatting is getting out of control, you can remove people from a shared document. To do this, click the Share button and then click Advanced at the bottom of the window. Click the X next to the name of the person you want to remove. If the document was created by someone else and you don't control, have your kid make a copy and not share it.
Instagram. If you're wondering why your kid is spending so much time on Instagram, maybe they're using it to chat. Users only have to click the Send icon (it looks like a paper airplane) at the top of the app or within any message to start chatting.
What you can do. You can't block chatting in the Instagram app. (The browser version doesn't offer chat.) If you're allowing your kid to use Instagram, the best thing to do is use restrictive privacy settings to limit the number of people who can find and contact your kid. These include making the account private, preventing people from replying to your stories, and turning off comments. To do this, click on your kid's profile image, click on the three lines at the top of the screen, click Settings at the bottom of the screen, and then tap Privacy and Security.
LinkedIn. Network-minded students love making connections to potential employers, connectors, and influencers on LinkedIn. In addition to sharing your résumé and other details of your work history, you can message anyone you're connected to.
What you can do. LinkedIn offers a variety of privacy settings, including the ability to hide your email address and your last name. Depending on your kid's needs, interests, and maturity level, you can decide which settings make the most sense. If your kid is inclined to chat on LinkedIn, make sure they're always super professional and courteous and on the lookout for any social media red flags.
Pinterest. Wait what?! Yep, some clever users have discovered this app has OTHER features. Pinterest messages will appear as a notification on your mobile device, allowing you to easily check the message. You will also receive an email notification.
Pinterest messages can be sent to one person or a group of people. They're easy to share and easy to respond to. Pinterest messages can only be sent to someone who is following you. And, likewise, someone can only send you a message if you are following them.
What you can do. Look for notifications on your child's account as stated before also be aware that many apps can easily be added and then deleted once the chat has been sent. This is done to keep parents from discovering the app has been downloaded and is being used for this purpose.
What you can do. All chat on Roblox is filtered, and players younger than 12 have stronger filters than older players. You can turn off chat as well as other friending and messaging options to limit conversation. Plus you can lock the settings with a PIN code, so kids can change them back. Go to your kid's account and click Settings, then click Privacy. The chat settings are under Contact Settings.
Snapchat. Yes, "chat" is in the name, but this app got popular more for its disappearing messages, cool photo filters, and Snapstreaks than its chatting. Messages in Snapchat are automatically deleted after the recipient views them, unless the sender taps on them to save them.
What you can do. Just like in Instagram, you can't turn off chat but you can limit who can contact your kids and who can view their stories, which should reduce some conversation and make your kid's overall screen time somewhat easier to manage. Go to the profile page and click the gear icon. Scroll down to "Who can" to enable privacy settings.
Waze. Waze is a mapping app, but it relies on people as well as traffic data to help you find routes to places, avoid congestion, and, yes, chat -- and not just about the traffic. Waze connects through Facebook and allows you to see where your friends are and coordinate arrival times to your destination. Because it reveals your kid's location -- and not all of their Facebook friends are actual buddies -- there's a risk kids can expose their whereabouts to people who really don't need to know.
What you can do. Use Waze with your kids. That way you can see where they are, and they can see where you are (which is helpful when you're picking them up from school, for example). Waze offers a few privacy settings, such as the ability to be "invisible" so you can't be seen on a map (that would prevent you from seeing your kid's location, though), and you can also turn off both public and private chats separately, so you can decide which settings are safest for your kids. Also, if your kid drives, make sure they don't use the app while driving, and consider turning on voice command so they can interact hands-free.
Set Up Screen time: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT208982