I have a personal policy that if a teen I know wants to friend me on Facebook or follow me on Instagram then I always accept and follow back, but I don’t friend or follow first.
Here are 3 reasons why I have this policy:
It is important to me that the teenager feels a sense of power and control in the relationship. This is because the world is set up so that teens have considerably less power than adults do, and teenagers can internalize this imbalance and feel like their thoughts or feelings or desires are not as valid or worthy as the thoughts, feelings, and desires of adults. From home to school to the legal system young people are at a major disadvantage, and I like to turn this situation (sometimes called adultism) on its head and put the teen in the driver’s seat. That’s why I don’t friend or follow first.
This might mean that a teenager I really like doesn’t want to connect with me on social media. That might even be my own kid. And I have to be okay with it! If I feel disappointed or rejected or jealous those are my feelings to own and deal with. Remember – there is a whole world of relationship-building possibility out there beyond the borders of Snapchat. Relationships IRL are far more meaningful and impactful than those that happen online anyway.
I accept all such friend requests and follow back because teens are hungry for positive adult role models. They won’t say this; they aren’t usually aware of this need. But teenagers are as eager for love and acceptance as they were when they were small. In fact, none of us outgrow the need to be liked and accepted for who we are. Remember not so long ago when you could barely go 5 minutes without hearing, ‘watch me! Hey – look at this!’?
This is a complete 180 from the popular narrative we are given that teens are too cool for us and that they don’t need us anymore. DO NOT listen to those lies. Sure, they don’t need us to wipe their bums or reach the light switch. But they definitely need someone who cares about them to be curious about their lives, to be interested in their successes and challenges, and to be compassionate.
If a teen has chosen to friend or follow you this is a compliment. The appropriate emotions to feel are honoured and pleased. This teenager likes something about you. We adults can get all flustered and weird when teenagers like us, and I have heard some adults express concern that they especially do not want to send the wrong message to teens of the opposite sex. Rest assured that this weirdness and worry is primarily in your own head and it is something for you to deal with in a responsible manner. You would never have these concerns if the kid was 6 instead of 16, so quit thinking that you aren’t allowed to be interested in a teenage boy just because you are grown up woman. Adults that are committed to having strong personal boundaries and wide-open hearts are a gift to teens everywhere.
If you are part of the social media scene your teenager is involved in, you will have a fabulous window into the relationships and interests of your son/daughter. If you ‘like’ and ‘comment’ these are opportunities to demonstrate our interest in the lives of teenagers we care about. Sometimes it’s better to just lurk. But either way it will help you to be in the know.
With my son, I learn so much by reading the comments he leaves on other people’s IG photos.
Adults that are warm and friendly and fun to be around are a valuable resource to teenagers. They don’t want to just go on, long after the thrill of living is gone; they want to see that some adults enjoy this crazy ride that lies ahead of them.
It’s been almost 100 years since the end of the First World War, when folks said, “never again”; yet we live in a world of constant violent conflict somewhere on the globe. Teens look at the lives of adults and think, ‘that looks less than appealing.’ They see us stressed out at home, unable to curb our consumer addictions that are killing the planet (actually, killing the human species because the planet will carry on long after we suicide ourselves with plastics and rising oceans and fresh water shortages), trying desperately not to be part of the problem but not exactly poising ourselves as part of the solution. So they urgently need an injection of hope to help them keep on keeping on. Often adults look to teens for hopeful optimism and playfulness, but it has to be a two-way street. When we post photos and updates on social media of our engaging lives and creative expressions we are demonstrating to teens that adulthood is not all serious drudgery and that we actually have values in common with them.
What is your approach to interacting with teenagers through social media?