Child Development and Parenting

Facebook Chat: Raising Teens in the Digital Age

Kids on computers and phonesOn Wednesday, October 2, 2013, we hosted a live chat on Seattle Children's Facebook page with Dr. Megan Moreno about topics covered in her new book, Sex, Drugs 'n Facebook: A Parent's Toolkit for Promoting Healthy Internet Use. Dr. Moreno is an adolescent medicine physician here at Seattle Children's, which means her patients are all teens. A few years ago she started being asked a lot of questions about Internet safety, and the relationship between Internet use and health, during clinic visits. These questions came from both teens and their parents. That's what started her team's research in this area - research that fueled the idea of creating a parent handbook so that they could reach out to parents with what they'd learned.

Hello! I don't have a teen (yet) but reading all these complicated issues makes me hesitant to let my kids have social media accounts. Are there teens out there who aren't on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc and live to tell about it? Maybe it's a cop out but it seems the complications come from young people have access to tools where they can't compute the impact/scope of their actions.

Dr. Megan Moreno: There are definitely teens out there who choose to stay away from social media, and they do just fine. Some teens feel that they don't need it, or are not ready for it until later adolescence... like college. Sometimes teens even feel relieved when their parents tell them it is OK to notbe on Facebook, or talk with them openly about the risks and benefits of these sites.

What do think about young children having a Facebook page. If they do not post or rarely look at are they safe?

Dr. Megan Moreno: Facebook has a minimum age limit, so that is a good starting point for setting limits. We have seen that for some teens, getting a Facebook earlier (around age 13-14) and having parents set rules around how it is used can help that teen learn to use it in a safe way.

What is the best way to monitor kids internet activity without having a fight over it?

Dr. Megan Moreno: I think that a couple concepts can help parents navigate those tricky monitoring approaches. One is being trustworthy, setting up times that you look through the Internet activity together and discuss what you are seeing. Setting up those meetings on some sort of reliable schedule can help your child understand this is a topic that is important to you, which will help Internet safety become a topic that is important to him or her. A second concept is being inquisitive, asking questions about what your child likes to do online, what challenges he or she may have found, and asking directly about whether he or she has experienced any scary situations. Then talking through what happened next, and discussing how to avoid this in the future or handle it if it happens. I hope this is helpful.

I have a 13 year old daughter whom I just got back from my parents after 8 years. I don't know how to communicate with her on any of these topics boys sex drugs. I've always asked her to be open and honest with me no matter what. But I just don't know what to say or what to do. I get frustrated and sometimes yell. Not effective at all. Help please.

Dr. Megan Moreno: You raise a really important question that we often hear in our Adolescent Clinic. The adolescent years are definitely challenging and many parents struggle with these tough conversations. One thing we've learned through our research on social media is that approaching topics by talking about what your teen has seen on social media (boys, sex, drugs) can be a less threatening way to open up discussions. We give some tips on how to try this in our book.

What is a good age to allow your child to have a cellphone?

Dr. Megan Moreno: I wish there was an easy answer to this one. This will really depend on the family and their situation. Some families get phone earlier for safety reasons, even in elementary school if the child walks home alone or something like that. A good strategy if you get a phone young is that it doesn't have to be a smartphone, and doesn't even need to have texting. If your teen argues that she or he "needs" a phone, it is good to be reminded that this doesn't mean that you have to buy the newest iPhone, or any phone at all. It does mean that it's a good time to discuss pros/cons of phones and how to use them safely. Some parents have established a set of skills that the teen must have before getting a phone, kind of like when a young child asks for their first pet and needs to demonstrate they are responsible enough to handle it.

How do parent's deal with apps like Snapchat etc?

Dr. Megan Moreno: Thanks for bringing up this app, it is a tough one to be sure. As most viewers may know, this app allows teens to take photos that "disappear" after viewing. I think it can be helpful to remind teens that nothing reallyever disappears online, there are many cases of friends even taking photos of the Snapchat screen and those going viral. It is a risky site because it promises something it can't deliver, and can encourage reckless behavior. We've found that many teens are less enthusiastic about it once they hear about posts going viral.

I find the most challenging thing when discussing things like this with my teenagers is that they think parents are ancient and therefore not a credible source of information on topics like internet use. How can a parent effectively communicate to their teen on topics like this in a way that will resonate with them? Good advice isn't very useful if my teen isn't really listening.

Dr. Megan Moreno: This is really difficult, and a very common experience. One strategy we've heard that can be helpful is to let teens know "OK, you are the expert on Facebook. Show me how it works." And then you get to be the expert on safety. You let your teen teach you about Timeline and Events and all that, and then you get to be the boss of safety behaviors. Sometimes letting this be an exchange of expertise can allow conversations to be more enjoyable for both parties involved.

I have a 14 year old that thinks I'm the worst mom in the world because she isn't allowed to have Facebook and all she has is a basic cell phone while a lot of her friends have smart phones. I'm also super vigilant about watching what she does and where she has been online. Is there a good time to ease up on this at all or should I keep on as we have been?

Dr. Megan Moreno: Thanks for your comment and for the hard work you are doing being vigilant with your young teen. We have often found that parents who are vigilant with their younger adolescents by setting rules and ensuring they are followed often find that their teens use more safe behaviors as they get older. I think that you will find over time that her safe online behaviors become habits, and you'll know when you can back off because you know she knows what to do.

A friend uses sharing their fun pictures they have taken each month, to get her kids to be careful themselves, & to see what the other kids are sharing with their kids. They have found some pretty explicit pictures sent to their boys from girls. How should they handle these pix? Do they contact parents or school or police? They have deleted/blocked those girls from the boys phones. Made copies of pix & text/messages, etc for evidence if needed. I applaude their closeness to their kids...but what is their legal responsibility &/or exposure if they do nothing? Concerned for friends/family & the rest of us who now know this was happening. PS: These were young teens!?

Dr. Megan Moreno: It sounds like what they are seeing is sometimes called "sexting." This is an alarming but oddly common behavior among younger teens. Often teens are testing limits, and exploring what is OK to do when one is romantically attracted to a boy or girl. We discuss this in our book, including ways that parents can both prevent and deal with sexting when it happens. I think that if the goal is to help the teen be safe and understand how to be careful, then having open conversations with that teen about self-respect, relationships and the permanence of what is online is more important than pursuing legal action.

I have a child who is nearly 8 years old, and she is starting to ask a lot of questions about the internet, social media, texting, and other newish technology. At this point, I'm so scared of what she will be exposed to online, I'm thinking of just keeping her away from online content altogether until she is in her teens. Is this a reasonable approach? Should I be exposing her to certain content earlier so she learns how to use it gradually? Thanks in advance for any insight you might share.

Dr. Megan Moreno: Thanks for this question. It can be tempting to try to keep kids away from the Internet at young ages. But another approach may be to take advantage of their curiosity and start early on with establishing good discussions about Internet safety, such as balance of online and offline life, boundaries in what is OK to post online and communication about what they are seeing. In our book we discuss this balance, boundaries and communication framework that can apply to all ages of kids and teens.

I have a 10 year son who is eager about using the internet (YouTube, Pandora, are his biggest requests) is he ready at 10 years old? And if so what can I tell him to be aware of what major privilege the internet is? Please and thank you!

Dr. Megan Moreno: Hard to believe what kids know at 10! I think this is a great age to have these discussions and set rules that will help him appreciate both the privilege of using the Internet, as well as how to avoid the risks it can present. In our book we talk about how to have conversations with younger teens about the potential of seeing content that is inappropriate, we include an exercise you can do with a younger teen that involves doing a specific Google search together and discussing what you find.

What bullying workbooks might be available for high school level that can be used as a teachable moment when students are in in school suspension for this behavior?

Dr. Megan Moreno: I'm so glad you brought up bullying, it is such an important topic, and we mostly do work related to cyberbullying. Our book has a chapter on cyberbullying, it includes some conversation starters to use with teens about this topic. There is also a great website,, that tackles this topic in a really teen-friendly way.

How do I help my students be smarter. So many claim to be 20 instead of 10 on all social media sites. And their parents are usually their "friends."

Dr. Megan Moreno: You raise a really tough but important question. There are a couple of interesting issues here. First, parents that allow their teens to avoid age restrictions on sites are essentially encouraging them to lie about their age and bypass rules that are age-based. In clinic we often remind these parents that this is not a good idea. It can set a precedent that lying about your age is OK... which is not a good thing because it may encourage that teen to consider getting a fake ID to be 21 a bit earlier than is legal. Second, some parents believe that by stating they are older, that this may protect teens online. Unfortunately this doesn't work, it may actually put teens more at risk for being approached by sexual predators or even just dating partners who are older than is appropriate for that teen. Often this information can help teens and parents reconsider bluffing about their age.

My children are all young, but how should a parent prepare for teaching our children about internet safety, etc.

Dr. Megan Moreno: Great question, my daughters are also young but already curious about things like iPads. It feels like it is never too young to start these conversations in today's modern society. I think that establishing patterns of sitting at the computer or iPad together earlier on, and discussing how you can't always believe what is online, how you have to search topics carefully, how you need to balance online and offline activities, can be a great start to internet safety habits that will persist.

Would it be an invasion of privacy if parents were to check their kids phones, such as who is calling them, who are they calling, or reading their text messages? Do you recommend doing this when getting your child their first cell phone?

Dr. Megan Moreno: Thanks for raising this important point about privacy. There are many parents who set ground rules with their teens when they get their first phones, these rules may include a routine "phone check" of call records and text messages. I think this rule can help prompt good conversations and set up trust early on. What doesn'tseem to work is when parents don't set this as a rule, but surprise their teen by snooping. This is kind of like snooping in a teen's bedroom without asking. You may find something important, but you may also destroy trust with your teen. So take care with that method. I think that setting up these as rules and opportunities to communicate can help keep trust and establish safe patterns of behavior.

Attempting to restrict usage seems to be a futile effort for tech-savvy teens. There was a time when a parent could have a family computer in a public area of the house which made it easier to see what their kids are up to, but that's just not practical now. Even if a parent chooses not to allow their kids to have laptops, smartphones, etc. and restrict access to their home Wi-Fi network, teens can easily get around this because most electronic devices connect to the internet and have Wi-Fi access (iPods, Kindles, etc.). All a teen needs is a friend to give them an old iPod/iPhone/etc. (or they can buy themselves an inexpensive GoPhone at the drugstore). Then they can connect to an open wireless network near their house…all right under their parents' noses. It seems that rigid rules around phone/internet usage creates a false sense of security for parents. What are good strategies for parents to help them establish rules they can realistically enforce?

Dr. Megan Moreno: I agree that trying to outsmart a teen using technology is often futile, they are always one step ahead of the game (which is why we always have at least one teen on our research team!). I think that the best way is the hard way, having frequent conversations with your teen about what they are seeing and doing, and taking time to reinforce the rules in a caring but firm way. We give some tips on how to start these conversations in the book.

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