To Follow Or Not To Follow?

Should you follow your child on social media? 

Most teens live and breathe social media. Their generation are masters of the online world, utilising a wide range of apps and platforms every single day of their lives. For parents, it can be a complete minefield – social media is an ever-changing landscape and our teens switch and jump from platform to platform. It’s only natural that we would worry about our teen’s online safety and so the urge to ‘follow’ or ‘friend’ in order to keep an eye on their virtual identity becomes a great temptation.

Talk It Over First

Try to resist the urge to hit ‘follow’ without talking to your teen first. Explain your reasons for wanting to follow them online and ask what their thoughts are on the matter. You’re far more likely to come to a compromise if you discuss the issue first and take the time to calmly explain your thoughts and concerns. 

Reaction: Mum, That’s So Embarrassing!

Many teens will recoil in horror at the thought of adding their parent to their friend list. Try not to take this personally – remember, they see their online world as a safe place to chat and communicate with friends and peers. In their eyes, a friend request from Mum is almost akin to you gate-crashing their party. You have, in a sense, invaded their privacy.

They may also see it as a ‘dent’ to their street cred or reputation. Many teens will react with, “NONE of my mates are friends with their parent online!”. Remember, you are ultimately not your teen’s preferred audience for the content she or he posts. They have a certain image online that they want to project and having Mum cramp their style just won’t do. Your teen may also fear that you’ll disapprove of some of their posts or selfies and dread that you might publicly voice disapproval on their page for everyone to see. 

Action: Explain to your teen that you have no intention of invading her privacy and that you completely understand that their social media space is theirs and theirs alone. This situation is all about compromise and together you can come up with a plan that keeps both parties happy. You could ask your teen to allow you to follow them but promise not to comment or like anything on their feed. That way, you are pretty much invisible to their peers, but you can still keep an eye on things.

Reaction: I Haven’t Done Anything Wrong

Your teen might view your request to follow them as a sign that you don’t trust them. They may become defensive or angry and feel as if you want to spy on them. Your teen may post suggestive selfies or share content they know you won’t like and will do what they can to hide this from you. 

Action: If online safety is a huge concern for you, or if you suspect your teen has been doing something online that puts them at risk, you need to talk to them. Be open and honest and reassure them that you aren’t here to judge – you’re here to help. Talk about their online image and audience, gently pointing out any areas where you feel they could be at risk. If it’s a suggestive selfie, you could ask them to have a think about how their image could be viewed by a family member or how it could be misused in some way. Go back to basics and discuss the best ways to stay safe online. Ask your teen to read our How Can I Stay Safe Online?  guide to learn more. 

The Compromise

Ultimately, you and your teen need to meet in the middle to find a situation that works for both of you. You could agree on a social media contract, a set of simple rules that you will both adhere to. These could include:

  • Agreeing to think twice before posting anything online 
  • Setting boundaries on how much interaction you will have with them online
  • Agreeing not to voice disapproval of their content online but in person

If there are more serious online behavioural concerns, you might want to set firmer guidelines. These could include restricting which platforms your teen uses or an agreement to do regular spot-checks of their feeds and messages. You may also want to set designated social media time for your teen to reduce the amount of time they spend online. It can help to talk over the risks of online grooming or the sharing of images without consent to explain to your teen just how serious things can get. 

Coming to a compromise isn’t always easy and you may have to relent on a few points in order to get your teen to accept you as an online friend. Do your best to stick to your side of the bargain and hopefully your teen will do the same.  

For more information go to https://www.net-aware.org.uk/


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