by Shadra Bruce

Our two older boys have not given us the typical teen experiences most parents face. Derek didn’t drive, date, or have many interests beyond math, video games, and basketball. Kyle has Down syndrome. Kira, however, more than made up for her brothers’ lack of teen issues by challenging us in a variety of ways that account for at least 50 percent of my grey hair.

When Kira (now 20 and successfully off at college except for breaks and summer) was in her early teens, she wanted to be on MySpace. We, being conscientious and involved parents, said “Hell, no!!”

At the time, social media wasn’t even a phrase that had been thoroughly coined yet, and the idea of letting our 13-year old cheerleading daughter get out there on the Internet in a venue that allowed for easy contact and even easier posting of pictures seemed like bad parenting in action – even if “everybody else” did have an account.

We eventually relented, with lots and lots of caveats, like “we get to know your password” and “you can only access it from the living room of our house with us looking over your shoulder.” Of course, being a teenager, she didn’t wait for us to get around to it. We discovered that she’d simply created an account for herself while at a friends house using an email address that she’d created that we didn’t know about detailing a level of Internet savvy we didn’t realize she had.

After the predictable “you’re grounded for the rest of your life and can never get on the Internet again” phase, we realized that our approach to teens and the Internet needed to come into the 21st century. We enforced Kira’s grounding from the Internet for a couple of weeks, during which time we all chatted about our concerns, her reasons for wanting on the Internet, and how we could come to a more amicable arrangement without feeling like we’d just handed our daughter off to the Internet predators of the world.

What we learned with that first trip through teen + social media = disaster was that you can’t keep teens from technology any more. It’s not even smart to try, because everything they do is connected. This generation is actually referred to as the “C” generation – the Connected generation – and the Internet, technology, and social media will have a gigantic influence in how they work, live, and socialize.

We had a LOT more success when we sat down with Kira and told her what we were worried about and shared stories with her about kids who had shared too much information and had become victims of predators. Instead of keeping her from the Internet, we realized we needed to help her be a savvy user who could protect herself from harm while learning to use these tools.

Parker is 11 now, and we’ll probably be setting him up with his own Facebook account very soon. We have all the same concerns we had with Kira – and Parker will only have Internet access in the living room where we can look over his shoulder, and we will know his password. But we also know a lot more about social media and understand better that it’s here to stay, and that the best thing we can do as parents is educate our children about Internet safety and online protocols rather than trying to keep them away from it.