We know that it is very challenging to teach teens about both the lack of privacy and the permanence of their messages, posts, DMs, tweets, and snaps.  But, we have a way that will help you teach them….

As we remind you often, your teens are on their phones and social media on average 9 hours a day.  That time is spent posting on Snap and Insta, tweeting, and sending messages on WhatsApp or Discord.  Eventually, those all become thousands of communications over millions of minutes.

With all those communications over all that time, conversations via social media become very normal and habitual for teens.  This normalcy can eventually lead the teen to a false expectation of privacy and a disregard for the permanence of digital messages, concerns we typically do not have when we engage in direct verbal conversations.

So, even if most teens who enter the world of social media start off with strong habits and a firm understanding of what they should and should not be communicating via social media, time can naturally create bad tendencies or carelessness.  Their social media communications may eventually come to contain angry sentiments, hateful comments or inappropriate attempts at humor, private confessions and admissions, and messages of a sexual nature.  Eventually down the line, most of us, not just teens, will be reminded that the privacy we thought we had on these platforms is illusory, and the inappropriate joke we messaged out so long ago will come back to haunt us.

Young adults just joining the world of social media and texting need an ongoing reminder that (1) anything they do on their phones is NOT private and (2) is likely permanent.  Many parents pass on this message to their children when handing over the phones initially but time weakens the lesson.   (This, by the way, is true for adults as well….)

What You Can Do

First, consider having that initial conversation when you hand over the phone to your child that what they post on social media and message over their phones is not private and likely permanent.  Then consider having that same conversation at least yearly as a reminder.  And, then on an ongoing basis, be on the lookout for any real-life cases you can share with your teens to serve as actual examples of the dangers associated with careless texting and posting.

Second, we recommend physically taking the phone from your child to conduct an inspection every month or every other month.  To be clear, taking the phone for a physical inspection is NOT an invasion of privacy.  In fact, the whole point of this exercise is to reinforce that you are not invading your teen’s privacy.  You are teaching that anything your teen does on the phone and social media is NOT private.  The act of physically taking the phone is a frequent, visceral, but safe, reminder of this lesson and is meant to create a lifelong habit of thinking through how we communicate through our phones before we hit send or post.

Physical phone inspections work best with young teens just learning how to use smartphones and social media.