7 Tips to Having This Vital Conversation
If you’re a parent and you have kids with screens, then you probably would like to know what apps they’re downloading. . .or better yet. . .you probably would like to help them learn to become screen-wise and avoid dangerous apps.
Take the app Housparty, for example. On one hand this is a fun app families can use especially now to communicate and play fun games while quarantined together. But if young people don’t set their privacy settings correctly, they’ll have to navigate encounters with strangers.
I said it.
Just saying the world “strangers” divides the generations today. Most parents grew up with school assemblies teaching us “stranger danger!” We don’t like the idea of some 46-year-old naked guy sitting in his mom’s basement “friending” our kid. And believe me…he’s there.
But most of Gen Z has grown up seeing “strangers” as potential followers, and in a world where 86% of Gen Z wants to be an influencer, this is the lens in which they navigate all social media. I need more followers so I can be a YouTube star! (you’ll be seeing more from me on this soon) So when they get a friend request from Ted Bundy. . .it’s just one more potential follower.
This makes dialogue with our kids vital today.
We can’t just slap down rules and tell our kids what they can and can’t download. We need to get to the “why” behind it.
So let’s say your 11-year-old daughter already has a smartphone or tablet (the majority of them do) and asks you if she can have the app Houseparty. . .and you know nothing about it. What do you do?
1. Google it. Google something like “houseparty app parental concerns” or “Houseparty app review.” You’ll probably be directed to a site like our BecomingScreenWise.com or CommonSenseMedia.org. You might find it interesting that Common Sense reviewed the app and rated it as age 14+. That alone should tell you something. Common Sense also has a place where parents can kids can post reviews about the review—very interesting stuff. Parents actually average rating “Houseparty” 15+, and of course kids rate it 12+.
2. Check it out together. So if your 11-year-old asks you, Mom, can I download Houseparty? Respond the way I always tell parents they should respond when they have no clue what their kid is asking. Reply, “I don’t know, but let’s check it out together.” Then sit down, Google it together, read what Common sense says, and talk about it. For example, when Common Sense says, “The biggest risks are communicating with people you don’t know well, pictures and screenshots getting shared around, and spending lots of time in virtual hangouts.”
3. Ask your kids the why. In this case, you could ask, “Why do these media experts think there are risks communicating with people you don’t know well?” “Why are there risks with pictures and screenshots getting shared around?” “What are the risks of spending lots of time in virtual hangouts?” Ask them to explain the why of what you’re reading. It’s reading comprehension 101. If you aren’t getting wise answers, then maybe look up some more research on the subject, like this article about the “Unforeseen problem with Insta Followers.” Or this article about a social influencer who became so depressed that he had to quit TikTok. And then…
4. Ask your kids what they should do. Yes, ask them if they should download houseparty. Have them spell out the why to you.
5. Give your final say. Sometimes your 11-year-old won’t see the wisdom no matter how much you present it before their eyes. Be compassionate. They might be feeling the pressure from all their friends, “Why can’t you have houseparty? That’s stupid!” But it’s okay for you to still say, “Sorry, not yet.” And then…
6. Tell them why. Don’t just say, “Because I said so.” Get to the why. The why is more important than the rule itself. Maybe after reading about this app you would explain, “Because even if you show good discernment, your friends might not, and then their friends can hop in on a video chat unless you lock the room. These experts think that’s a lot of pressure for an 11-year-old right now, and I agree. I don’t want you to be made fun of or pressured by your friends just because you’re making wise media decisions.”
7. If they keep putting pressure on you… then keep the conversation open. Maybe even make them a deal. “I’ll tell you what. If this is something you really want, I want you to become more educated about it first. So let’s read this book together first—it’s a guide to wise posting in an insecure world—and then when you finish that book and become old enough to download the app without lying about your age.” (yes, as you are deciding some of these bare-minimum screen limits, remember that most social media doesn’t even allow you to download the app unless you are 13-years-old, or are willing to lie about your age).
Houseparty isn’t Tinder. It’s more like “group Snapchat.” It can be used innocently to play games and pass on messages, or it can be used by kids who don’t want the accountability and want the messages and videos they send to disappear. This varies by age and maturity. This is why these conversations are so important.
Are you having these conversations?
Here are a few resources that can help you engage them in meaningful conversation on the subject:
- My brand new book to young people, Teen’s Guide to Face-to-Face Connections in a Screen-to-Screen World, co-written by my Gen-Z daughter Alyssa, devotes an entire chapter sharing these numbers and helping kids understand the need for a backup plan. It also has a chapter on how to navigate social media safely and identify predatory behavior.
- My article, The Unforeseen Problem with Insta Followers, exposes how this desire for influencing has effected how young people navigate social media, and how we can help our kids avoid some of these dangers.
Jonathan McKee is the author of over 25 books including the brand new Parenting Generation Screen, and The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices, and Amazon Best Seller, The Guy’s Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. Jonathan is an expert on youth culture and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide.