Teen love online gone wrong!

Teen love, life and social media are inextricable.

It is a difficult conversation to be part of, listening to the distress of a parent genuinely at a loss on how to support their teenage daughter. The parent explains the budding face-to-face relationship between his daughter Diane and Jack has gone online and gone wrong. This time through no fault of their own.

An unknown individual is impersonating Diane, establishing a false identity on her behalf over Snapchat.  Announcing it to peers near and far, that Diane is pregnant. Jack and Diane are 17 and in their final year at different schools. Peer acceptance for both is strong, as is their reputations and identities in their respective schools.

The fallout is catastrophic for both teens. Parents are in shock and disbelief that someone could be so vexatious. This is new territory and there is little life-experience to support their teens through this social media situation. Feelings of helplessness, fear and hurt rein for all.

For us as parents there are questions.  What can we do in this extreme situation? How can we resolve something so complex? How can we provide support and compassion to our children? What can we do with our own anger and frustration at the actions of another? Who can help us?

This is not a situation for parents to wallow in helplessness or blame social media. For better or worse social media is here to stay. As Danah Boyd writes, ‘Along with planes, running water, electricity and motorised transportation, the internet is now a fundamental fact of modern life’.

Our teens need a steady head from us as parents who are willing to understand their online world, while providing them with moral direction.

If teen love, life and social media are an inextricable package then what can we do as parents in such a crisis?

We can understand the social media landscape and teen behaviour in it. Working from parental authority alone is not enough. Our teens have knowledge and are very willing to share it, if we meet them as our mentors on the functionality of social media. To do this requires a strong, trusting face-to-face relationship with boundaries between us and our teens.

We can understand that we are not alone and depending on the situation, school’s have a key role in supporting our teens with the online issues of today to ensure their well being. So too, professional counsellors.

We can consider a plan of action and:

  1. Identify as much as possible about the face-to-face elements of the situation. What is the state of the relationship? Who is involved beyond those who are immediately affected? Who knows what? Listen, note and clarify with teens.
  2. Have teens make a timeline of events. This will bring clarity for parents and teens.
  3. Identify where the online discussion is hosted? Take screenshots and/or capture the URLS of where the content is hosted. Print off a hard copy and date it. This will assist in explaining the context of the situation to key people.
  4. Understand and clarify the emotional impact of the situation on teens. This is essential, as it is critical to consider the emotional impact of our actions moving forward.
  5. Identify key support people. At school the Head of Year, Student Welfare and School Counsellor can all assist. Beyond the school consider a professional counsellor to work through the emotional impact and consequences of the situation.
  6. Take action, remembering the outcome will be fluid. Always keep in mind the well being of teens, pursuing a ‘socially’ just outcome could be detrimental.
  7. Think about what could be done differently to minimise the risk in the future.

A teen social media crisis can play out in many different ways. Understanding the origins and the impact is complex. As parents in a pre-social media world there was only sex, drugs and rock n roll to charter with our teens. Social media now adds a new layer of complexity requiring new role models and new actions from us all.

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