Teen social media sex auctions. Can we help?

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Social media can potentially erode the social and moral values of our lives. It is embedding into our culture with the speed, reach and popularity of a viral video.

Headlines such as, “Bullying among children on the rise” and “Teen parties in 2016: naked selfies and sex auctions” are two examples of recent commentary on the dark side of social media. These stories alert us to the high risk behaviours of teens where parents and educators see the pain of a hurtful text, a sext, bullying and the negative impact on well-being.

Sadly, and regrettably this behaviour has become normal for many. As a parent it is one of our great fears!

“You can’t stop sexting or any other sexual social media activity. Teens now see it as a rite of passage, much in the same way that we stole our parents’ alcohol and smoked behind the bike shed”.  This does not mean it is acceptable. Morals and values are critical to a healthy society where we know right from wrong, respect ourselves and others.

When peer status, teen curiosity and sexual experimentation merge with social media the effects can be devastating. This is complex and unknown territory for us as parents, leaving us in shock, where removing the device seems to be the quickest and best solution. It is not.

If removing mobile devices from our teens is not the answer, then what is?

Social media is here to stay and as parents we must make a greater effort to understand the online world of our teens. If not, we fail to see the nuances of their motives and actions online. We miss the opportunity to be powerful online role models for them and their peers.

A social media symbiosis can exist between us and our teens. Teens have superior social media skills, parents’ values and life experience. We need to be open to reverse mentoring from them while setting safe, flexible online boundaries for participation that reflect their adolescent maturity.

We should build this process upon ongoing face-to-face conversations, of which many may be incidental. We must take the time to ask our teens about their use of social media remembering their face-to-face behaviours are now intertwined with their online world.

Our readiness is essential to bridge the digital divide and helpful resources like ACMA, Cyber Safe Kids and Common Sense Media all provide some 101 basics on the positives and negatives of social media. We should use these resources as a framework to set our boundaries.

We should find a context and a social media tool for use with our teens.  We need to do so with clear boundaries remembering teens will banish us for embarrassing commentary.

Schools are also adopting social media as a means to celebrate student life. In doing so they provide teens with a positive context for using social media and model digital citizenship in their local community. Many schools also adopt and implement a range of digital citizenship programs that can provide additional guidance for us as parents.

Remember there will be no shortage of teen sex scandals via social media and we should not let them render us powerless. Participate where you can as the online world needs as many positive role models and contexts as it can get.

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