This chapter was key for me as a parent of two teenagers. The author talks about exclusion and how a teenager can be participating in a group text but still feel left out, while another might be blissfully unaware that anything is amiss. This was a good reminder for me to check in and possibly help my child connect with others outside of school or in other communities. Sometimes the internet can help our kids connect to others that they more readily identify with, while other times it feels isolating. One of the main differences we as parents should be aware of, Heitner says, is that before the digital explosion kids could come home and hide/recover from the drama at school, but now the drama continues 24/7 online and therefore is hard to get away from. I liked her suggestion that if your child feels negatively impacted by social media, it’s important to help them unplug in the evening. A permanent disconnection or the deletion of an app will probably feel too extreme for your child, but framing it as a temporary measure might be the best way forward for your child.
Heitner points to the concept of friends and how that might have changed for our children, and she suggests that as parents we should explore and discuss the concept of friendship as part of our value set. For LGBQT kids, the internet can be a positive source of validation, information and community. However, it can also be a source of bullying, so parents should be aware of the difficulties their kids might encounter while they try and navigate different identities in different situations—particularly on social media. Heitner mentions some resources: safe schools, impact program and glsen as well as a book (titled This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids.)
Research around dating shows that most tweens and teenagers are still meeting in person, not through the internet. The difference seems to be around the expectations for constant connectivity when dating. It can be useful to remind your teen that just because we CAN reach out at all times doesn’t mean we have to.
When harassment takes place online, parents can and should help their kids by guiding them and setting boundaries when necessary. Heitner suggests opening the conversation with questions like, “Have you or your friends ever had to block someone for coming on too strong or being too persistent?” She reminds us that mentorship seeks to build communities, not form divisions. So if another parent approaches us about our own child’s online behavior, being open rather than defensive—as well as reporting back—will help build community and open lines of communication between parents. This chapter is worth reading, as there are many more useful pieces of information.
By Samantha Farrell-Schmitt