A Secretive Teen and When to Start Social Media

By Catherine Pearlman

December 11, 2015 4 min read

Dear Family Coach: How would I go about encouraging my teenage daughter (who is the human equivalent of a steel trap) to open up, share her feelings or just her day-to-day life in general? I'm stumped. — Left Out Mom

Dear Left Out: Parents often complain that their teens are moody and erratic. Teens can be combustible, and their attitudes are hard to take. But what is even more painful for parents is the alienation. Children who used to eagerly tell their parents about what happened at lunch or on the playground are now as carefully locked up as Fort Knox. In response to this growing distance, many parents put on the full-court press to try to get information. And in response to that play, most teenagers retreat further into their silence.

Here's the thing: your daughter's silence isn't about you. She isn't divulging her thoughts either because she is very protective of her emotions or she feels more comfortable sharing them elsewhere. She knows that you might react to some of what she shares. For example, if she is being bullied at school but feels like she can handle it, would you be able to sit idly by watching her suffer, or would you try to get involved? What if you found out her best friend is using drugs and your daughter is trying to figure out how to preserve the friendship? Would you welcome that friend into the home next week with open arms and a bright smile? It is a complicated dance.

All you can do is continue to ask open-ended questions about your daughter's life. If she does happen to share some details, do not overreact or she will think twice about opening up in the future. Provide empathy when she appears distraught, even if you don't know the reason she is upset. Say, "You look sad. Are you OK?" Worry less about the details and more about providing support.

Dear Family Coach: What is the most appropriate age to let your children start using social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., and is one more age appropriate than another? — Luddite Dad

Dear Luddite: Not all social media platforms are equal. Some are more innocuous than others. By that, I mean some apps and websites have a greater potential to expose children to pornography and other inappropriate images. Being on social media can also potentially expose children to predators of various kinds if they allow strangers to "friend" or "follow" them.

Most of the apps you mentioned, as well as many of the others, have stated policies that require users to be at least 13-years old. This is a good rule of thumb. Children younger than this might have difficulty understanding the vastness of the online world and the dangers of having an online presence. Learning to navigate the Internet takes practice and a lot of oversight. I suggest you pick one app with which to begin and slowly (over the course of several years) allow your child access more social media.

To help your child understand how to interact on social media, make sure that you are familiar with the app. Require several rules to ensure safety: 1. Your child can only have real friends as friends on social media; 2. All profiles must be private and no identification information should be shared. 3. On a daily basis review what your child posts. If there is something inappropriate or dangerous explain why and ask your child to take the post down. Periodically review the followers list to make sure your child knows all of the people. With careful education and monitoring, your child can learn to be safe and enjoy being social online.

Dr. Catherine Pearlman, the founder of The Family Coach, LLC, advises parents on all matters of child rearing. To write to Dr. Pearlman, send her an email at [email protected] To find out more about Dr. Catherine Pearlman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Photo credit: Jason Howie

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