Social Media: Girls Tethered Over the Break

There is always an energised sense of anticipation on the last day of term as students bounce out of the School gates, excited to embark on the upcoming school holiday break—sleeping in, reading books, adventuring outside, spending time with friends and watching good movies. Days with no structure are appealing and well received—it is what most students dream about during the busy school term—but sometimes it doesn’t take long until time is whittled away mindlessly scrolling through social media and you hear the uttering of, ‘I am bored’ … three words that can irritate parents and, combined with children’s sometimes excessive social media use, often result in conflict.

These musings below may provide food for thought as you consider how your daughter uses social media—Instagram, Snapchat and Tik Tok in particular—or how tethered she is to her phone.

1. The Legal Age for Social Media

Although the legal age for social media is 13, most parents feel pressured to provide a phone for their daughter and allow social media access a lot earlier. This is a family decision and while nothing magical happens at age 13, the issue of supervising children online is an important one.

2. Create Clear Agreements

Start the holidays by creating a written social media contract if you haven’t already. Young people respond with consistent messages, and it important that everyone is on the same page. How many hours per day? What apps are suitable? How can parents have access to accounts? What to do if something goes wrong? What to do if you see worrying messages from a friend? Who do you talk to if you need help? What are the consequences for misuse? These conversations allow everyone to communicate assumptions regarding phone use and allow parents the opportunity to reflect whether expectations are reasonable.

Attach the agreement to the fridge—keep it in a visible place—and while it might be normal to sometimes stick to it, and sometimes to neglect it, it’s a base to refer to. And keep in mind that there may be times when parents need to parent over and above the bounds of the agreement, understanding that it is impossible to foresee every scenario that might occur.

3. Insist on Transparency

In the agreement, be confident and insist on transparency—resist the temptation to allow your daughter to retreat into her own private online world. The Internet is a public place.

4. Talk About the Uncomfortable Topics

Nothing can replace the relationship that you have with your daughter. Intuition and communication will trump any other strategy you implement, and parents are encouraged to talk openly about topics that concern young people. Pornography, sexting, consent, body image, girl-related meanness, inappropriate language and cyberbullying are some of the main ones, regardless of their age. Parents are encouraged to be bold and brave—yes it may feel awkward at first, but please bring up these conversations. It’s your ‘check and chat’ time.

5. Expect the Best. Prepare for the Worst

When it comes to challenges associated with social media, difficulties can happen to anyone at any time. The teenage world, both real and virtual, comes with a range of risks, some which parents understand, and some which parents don’t—and that is why constantly educating yourself is essential.

Young people take these risks in the comfort of their own home—they can so easily interact with people they don’t know; they can stumble across content completely inappropriate for their age, or they can buy illegal products such as vaping materials. Within seconds young people can be interacting with unsafe people or content without parents knowing.

Educate yourself and stay empowered. The eSafety Commissioner has developed a wide range of advice for parents covering common online safety issues, like the hard-to-have conversations, and topics such as managing screen time, peer-to-peer relationships, inappropriate content, and contact from strangers. Parental controls can help block your child from accessing specific websites, apps, or functions. They can also monitor your child’s use of connected devices and set time limits. You can also buy robust filters or download family safety controls.

Allowing time for adolescents to be bored, to be away from friends, obligations and technology is beneficial for physical health, mental wellbeing, and cognitive development. However, when students are away from school, boredom can sometimes result in inappropriate behaviour, and mistakes can easily be made online without the usual support systems, including friends, teachers and counsellors. Be aware of signs if your child is appearing upset after using her mobile or computer, or is being unusually secretive about her online activities, or becoming withdrawn.

If you do have any concerns, please contact your daughter’s Head of House, or over the holiday period, email the School Psychologists.

Mrs Emma Lowry

Dean of Students