Parent, Is Your Teen Being Foolish on Twitter?

Teens Foolish on Twitter

It’s Twitter — not Tweeter — parents, and your teenager could be using the social network in a reckless way.

A few times a week my heart skips a few beats because I see good kids (kids I know personally) being foolish on Twitter. Before you shake (or bury) your head and claim, “not my angel,” please, keep reading.

Because it is your kid. And it’s my kid. Because sooner or later, if we’re honest and care about being proactive, it’s our kids. (No shaming here — I am right there with you in the parental mix).

So suspend your belief for a moment, if you will.

That it really is your kid. The one who smiles, and sincerely agrees when you talk about digital safety and being careful not to post anything that would put a permanent blush on Grandma. Yes, that one. That honor roll, more-mature-than-most teen who suddenly misplaces all common sense when she logs online. I’m not a psychologist so I can’t inform you on the why — why this generation feels compelled to share everything on Twitter as if it’s their personal Times Square ad banner. But, as a mom and writer in the online safety space, I can only tell you what is going on and encourage you take it seriously within your four walls.

How can I be sure? I see the digital train wrecks every day, and frankly, it’s heartbreaking. Digital listening is my job — to pay attention to the online world; to listen, observe, and keep up with tech trends that may put your family at risk online. So every day, I see smart, otherwise polite kids posting flirtatious, sexual, profane, unsafe, and even bullying content.

So, this begs the question: If they are publically sharing this on Twitter, what are they privately sharing on SnapChat, which is tougher for parents to monitor?

*Cringe.*

Is every kid out there a reckless tweeter? Of course not. There are kids using the channel responsibly and adding value to their peer conversations. But some are painfully reckless and if your child falls into that “some,” you may want to step in and do some serious digital parenting.

10 Twitter Insights for Parents

  1. Explain the power of a RT. A retweet is simply reposting an original post from another account. Retweeting is where a lot of kids get into trouble. If someone else posts a risque photo, profanity, or a bullying comment and your child re-posts it to her feed, that post is just as reflective and influential as an original tweet. There’s an acute disconnect with kids here. “What’s the problem, mom? I didn’t say it — they did. Don’t judge me based on what other people tweet.” Clarify the contradiction in this thinking for your kids and make sure they understand their responsibility in sharing content that echoes their personal values and keeps them safe. This is especially critical for kids on the college or scholarship track who will likely have their public social media reviews by decision makers. Also, make sure they read the screen name and bio of the person they are re-tweeting. Often a screen name has a profanity in it, and a retweet shows that profanity right next to your child’s name.Teens Foolish on Twitter
  2. Discuss influence. If your kids are on Twitter a lot, you may be surprised to find who trumps even your influence. So could Kanye West have more influence over your child’s opinions than you? You bet. Want to get an idea of where you child’s interest and influences lie? Go to the “Likes” tab on their Twitter profile page and see what kind of content they consistently approve or “like.” You will see patterns. Some will be harmless, even humorous. Others may be cause for concern. It’s better to know because information and insight into your child’s life at this age is valuable and frankly, a matter of sound parenting.
  3. Lock it. If your tween or teen is on Twitter, have them set their account to private. This keeps strangers from honing in on content and figuring out your child’s personal information on and social patterns. Make sure they know not to tweet their location, address, or if they are at a friend’s house. Basic right? Not really. Be sure to monitor their account. Check up on them to make sure they keep privacy settings in place. In and effort to increase their Twitter follower count and digital applause, kids will unlock their accounts. Teach your kids not to click on any suspicious links and that promise them free stuff. Raise savvy tweeters. Let them know some people Tweeting are out to befriend you to get to personal data—and many of them are tweeting fraudulently as celebrities or other fake accounts.Teens Foolish on Twitter
  4. Get a Twitter account. Learn the digital ropes. Setting
    up a Twitter account is easy peasy. Follow your kids if their account is private. If you’ve approved a public Twitter account, you don’t have to follow your child on Twitter to monitor your child on Twitter. You can do two things 1) simply do a search on your child’s name in the search function 2) Put your child’s account on a Private Twitter list (here’s how). If you suddenly cannot see your child’s account at all, they’ve blocked you, which is a whole other family discussion. And if they are truly intent on Tweeting without your prying eyes, they may set up an alias, or bogus account. Here are some tips on that.
  5. Keep passwords private. There’s an unsafe trend among teens to “take over” one another’s accounts for a day. And, some kids who date give their significant other their passwords to monitor Direct Messages. Whatever the reason, it’s never a good idea to share your password with anyone else other than family. It’s important to communicate this safeguard to your kids. Cyberbullying and sextortion are very real things and can evolve if once trusted relationships take a dive.
  6. Understand Twitter. Know the environment so you can coach your kids. For many teens, Twitter has become a group texting channel. Get to know the lingo. Words like Hashtags, blocks, ReTweets, @ symbols, DMs are simple terms you may want to know. Here’s a quick Twitter lingo guide.
  7. Stress responsible tweeting. Remind your kids they are not alone on Twitter but on a stage where an audience of people can see their tweets. They can’t take a tweet back even if they delete it and be entirely certain it’s gone. Teach them to be mindful of photos they post, and links they recommend. This is an excellent opportunity to talk about values, gossip, cyber bullying, critical thinking, and smart communication. Repeat to them often: “Think before you tweet.”
  8. Discuss Twitter fallout in the news. Just this week, the newly crowned Miss Teen USA came under fire for tweets she posted two years ago some people considered racial slurs. More and more, athletes are getting banned from events, celebrities are falling from grace, and even presidential candidates are putting campaigns at risk. This fallout is coming from 140 characters impulsively shared. Take these opportunities to open up a discussion about the power of social media with your kids. Talk about the big picture.Teens Foolish on Twitter
  9. Coach on conflict management. Twitter’s fast pace can be a landmine where small tweets can ignite into larger big offenses. Teach your kids to respond well if caught in an online conflict and how to steer conversations upward. Teach them how to first ignore, then to block. Also, encourage kids to report abuses. Reiterate to your kids that they need to come to you, or a trusted adult (teacher, counselor, youth leader) with online conflicts that get out of hand. You can also visit Twitter’s Safety Center. Teach your kids how to handle “haters, flamers, and trolls,” which are all words that refer to “malicious people online.”
  10. Talk about hashtags. Hashtags are ways to call out specific conversations on Twitter. For instance, if you are watching The Bachelorette and want to connect with others watching it, you use the hashtag #BacheloretteABC to talk specifically with others using that hashtag. That’s a great way to use hashtags. However, kids can use hashtags such as #TBH and #JK for cyberbullying. Here’s our deeper article for parents and teens on hashtags.

Are your kids using Twitter? What problems have you run into? How have you handled it? Please share with our community — we need each other!

ToniTwitterHSToni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @McAfee_Family and @ToniBirdson

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