Social Media and the Battle for My Teenager’s Soul

by Dr. Curvy on September 14, 2012

in Parenting, Tech

Okay, it’s probably not as dramatic as the title implies, but social media makes my job as a protective, vigilant parent just a little bit more challenging.

I have a girl crazy 16-year-old stepson who has given me some great experience to help me deal with my own five boys (ages 2-10) in a few years when they are acting the same way. I have a boy crazy 11-year-old stepdaughter, whose dinner table conversations about her future boyfriend fantasies make the hair on my neck stand on end. I hope we somehow never meet Niall from 1D.

Allow me to paint a background picture for you. As a physician, I get to know lots of kids. And as a physician, I unfortunately get to see a lot of the sad, shocking, and disturbing things most parents may only read about or hear secondhand: pregnant teens, minors catching STDs, minors making sex tapes, date rape, minors using illicit substances, etc. Young girls with low self-esteem finding inappropriate ways to feel loved, wanted, or popular. Was all this stuff happening when I was in high school? It probably was but I don’t think it was so ‘in your face’ as it is today.

I was compelled to write something after reading a journal article about teens who engage in frequent ‘sexting’ are more likely to have sex at an earlier age. The article reminded me of when my wife was nearly brought to tears learning of her son, then 14 years old, and his adventures with his then 13-year-old girlfriend. This was her baby boy and she didn’t want to believe it. My wife quite quickly facilitated that break-up. Our talks about sex and drugs were sabotaged by his father who does not have the same house rules as we do and let her spend the night, essentially unsupervised, when the kids were at his house.

At the mall one night after a movie, some young teens were having too good a time in the roller coaster simulator, the lad’s jeans around his ankles. My wife wanted to confront them and I stopped her. Kids are not the same as when we were growing up. In my youth adults could still embarrass kids and scold them effectively. Nowadays if we had said something to these youths, we might end up looking down the barrel of a gun with very ill consequences.

On rounds in the hospital the other day, I had to see a young gal who overdosed on pills after finding out she was pregnant. The baby’s father is her boyfriend’s best friend. They hooked up after she went to him for consolation, since her boyfriend that she was living with kicked her out after a fight. The conversation we had was uncomfortably casual on her part as if we were talking about her English class and not the events that had transpired the night before.

My son has almost 1000 “friends” on his Facebook page. I don’t think I had met 1000 people in the world by the time I was in college. Social media makes the large world in which our kids live that much smaller. So that it isn’t even 6° of separation for them to be exposed to the things I am writing about.

My wife and I share stories and keep ourselves on the same parenting page to be involved, preachy, and sometimes intrusive in our kids’ lives. We aren’t above checking on their Facebook page or reading phone texts. We express our disappointment or embarrassment to our kids over their bad decisions, and we also congratulate and thank them when they make good decisions.

We know he still sneaks around, and may lie to us on occasion, and bad things may still happen despite our efforts. But it won’t be because we had a blind eye or deaf ear to our kids’ lives and the stories they share of their 1000 friends. Really? 1000?

So parents, “will you fight? – insert Braveheart battle cry here . . . or will I be writing a prescription for “Mr. Thinks-he’s-a-man” or “Miss Oh-no-she-didn’t” – oh yes she did.

Dr. Curvy, aka Dr. Stephen Camacho, is a family doctor practicing in the midwest. He’s a busy guy, married with 8 kids, no typo here, 8.  He loves singing, dancing, reading, cooking, playing all sorts of sports, doing outdoorsy things, being artistic and creative.  Every day he tries to learn or do something different to make himself a better person for others, and for himself. You can follow Dr. Curvy on twitter.

Nuala Reilly September 14, 2012 at 7:34 am

I am always as frank and honest as I can be with my kids, three of them teenagers, one on the cusp. But, I’ve been like that with them since they were little, setting the bar so to speak, for the conversations we have now. We talk about sex, about drugs and about internet usage.
I had to take my 17 year old daughter to the hospital this week and at one point the resident asked me to leave the room for a moment. I knew why; the sex and drugs questions. But the funny thing was, my daughter knew too. As I was leaving I heard her tell her doctor that it was okay for me to stay, as I knew everything about her. I left anyway, as a mark of respect for the asking of those questions, but the doctor later told me in the hall that I was lucky with her.
I am. I wish more parents could have this relationship with their kids, but it’s hard. I can’t tell you how often I have been the sounding board for my kids’ friends who are too scared to talk to their own parents. I’m glad to be here for them, but sadly, teenagers still don’t talk frankly to their parents en masse, it seems.
I love this article. It’s never too late to open the conversation.

tena September 14, 2012 at 8:28 am

that’s great, Nuala. I have tried parenting the same way, but I have to admit some of my kids have personalities that are more responsive to the open door policy and some, slightly less (which simply means I need to be more proactive and hacking into phones, knowing passwords and friends.)

I think it helps when the parents are relatively active in social media, too, so they can maneuver around things and know from the inside. I, personally, am very strict with the usage. No Facebook until 16, and still then, I tend to be of the mindset that social media is a wonderful tool for people that have lost touch or are far away- not for sending a poorly grammatical error infested message to your friend who you just saw at school 14 minutes ago… if you want to talk to friends, CALL THEM LIKE I DID WHEN I WAS YOUR AGE, to which I get massive eye rolls, as you can imagine.

Nuala Reilly September 14, 2012 at 10:37 am

Lol, when I had to take my daughter to the hospital the other night (she’s 17 and she’s fine now) she had her cell phone on her THE WHOLE TIME texting her friends with the blow by blow.
The changes between her life at 17 and mine at 17 are astronomical!

Brandi September 14, 2012 at 10:12 am

I am totally on board! I have even told my almost 13 year old daughter that it is not my job to be her friend right now. We can be friends when she’s an adult. Right now my job is to be a parent. Protect her, inform her, know her and her friends, be involved… Which has resulted in her friends and even a friends parent telling her that her parents are too strict. Luckily, she is a good kid. But I believe our ‘strictness’ is why. She does not have a cell phone. If she needs to call a friend, call from the house phone. She doesn’t go places without an adult, so she can always reach me, and i can always reach her. I don’t feel she needs to have unlimited and unsupervised phone/text/internet availability. Which also means she does not have a social media account (I’ve checked lol). Go spend time with your friends in real life. Ride bikes. Have sleepovers (after I’ve met the parents). She is not allowed to date. And we’ve talked about all of these things, we don’t just tell her because we said so, we’ve explained why we have the rules we have. And she understands. While she may not love it, she abides by it. And it has so far resulted in a confident, intelligent girl who’d grades are a priority. She’s a straight A advanced , 7th grade student. And she has friends. She’s been asked out by boys. She plays sports and has chores. My husband and I are old school like that. The same will go for our 3 younger children. So far we’ve not been disappointed, and I have a feeling we’ll continue to not be. Mostly. Lol

Dr. Curvy September 14, 2012 at 10:52 am

Great feedback! Our son is now used to the rule that if there is a party he wants to go to, we have to hear from a parent the details of the party before he’s allowed to go. My wife didn’t like the idea of constantly reminding the kids of the “house rules” but now that they are conditioned to it – its a beautiful thing. “Mom, can I go to so and so’s house for a bonfire, here’s who’s going, if you can take me, so and so can bring me home at 11, can his mom call you to let you know? (wipe tear from my eye)

Cindy September 17, 2012 at 12:06 pm

As the mother of a daughter who got pregnant at 15 I can vouch parenting is the hardest thing ever. I was 35 when I became a grandma. I dropped my daughter off at her boyfriends house and would talk to his parents. I expressed my rules to them and they acted like they were on board. Boy, how wrong I was. I love my grandson and can’t imagine the day they move out. He is now 8 and she is 24 but watching my daughter struggle since she was 16 with money, stress, etc. it just isn’t fun. I can never call any of it a mistake or anything negative because they are both amazing individuals and I am very proud of my daughter but don’t get lax on your own rules when you think others are on board. Everyone does not always have your children’s best interests in mind.

Erica September 18, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Yes, please talk to your kids! My Mom had me at 16 and as you might guess was pretty crazy strict on me when I was in high school. It didn’t help matters that my Step-Dad was in law enforcement. However, my parents didn’t actually ever talk to me about anything like that. They more ruled with fear instead of with information; which I think is s shame because my Mom had so much to teach me. It really made it so we had virtually no relationship in HS and in college when I was out there learning things about myself that I was never given room to do earlier in life.

As adults my Mom is pretty much my very best friend. Now we talk about all sorts of things but still never about what things were like for me back then. I knew I didn’t want to end up in a similar situation to my Mom and my parents were pretty good at annoying boys that would come around with their crazy rules that they would all bail fairly quickly. Looking back now I know that I kissed far too many boys looking for approval in all the wrong places. My birth Dad was an addict who never chose us over him. I still don’t really know why but I never did anything else with any boys and thank goodness for that. I really wish my Mom and Step-Dad would have just leveled with me though and exaplined things to me about why they thought things or why I shouldn’t do something. There was no open line with my parents and I really wish their would have been.

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