Sex, Drugs, Social Media and What I Failed to Tell My Kids

Lisa writes: If the only thing I told my kids about sex was to use protection, would you think me a good parent? If I had never said more about drugs than, stay away, would that have been alright? Then why is it okay that the only thing I told my kids about social media is be careful and don’t post anything that you don’t want employers, colleges and your grandparents to see. One caution, one phrase…clearly a dereliction of duty.

social media

I told them no more about social media than this, because I knew no more. My parenting grew up with the internet, each new thing was as novel to me as it was to my kids and I never got ahead of them.   Parenting at the dawn of the internet was like running in place and I envy any parent who didn’t learn about Snapchat from their child.

I know I should have done better and told my kids:

The Internet is Written in Ink

Remember my favorite line from The Social Network (of course the movie had not yet come out…) “The internet isn’t written in pencil… it’s written in ink,” and repeat it to yourself every time your fingers touch the keyboard.



We Can See You

Social media is not an invisibility cloak.  People can still see you behind it no matter how hard you try to hide.  Everything you say or do will reflect on you.

Social Media is Always Open, scary neon sign, open sign for social media

You Don’t Need to Be there 24/7

Just because it is always open, doesn’t mean that you should always be on.  It may be new and exciting, but don’t get confused. The love and companionship of real people will never be replaced by the quips and cleverness of 1,368 friends.

Hurt Feelings, and Worse

Facebook can be a powerful force for hurting feelings.  I should have told my children to think of others’ feelings when they posted images and news. When they were small we invited every kid in their class to their birthday parties. As they got older things changed, but not getting an invitation is nothing compared to seeing twenty photos of the party you missed splashed across social media.   I wish I had said that no matter if every other kid at the party/concert/game posted photos, if it is going to hurt someone’s feelings, don’t.

Stop and Look Both Ways Before You Tweet

Twitter is designed for impulsive commenting and quick snippets of wit but both the impulses and wit of teens are not always good.  I taught my kids to stop at the stop sign, take a moment and look both ways. The same holds true about Twitter. Pause for a good long moment.  Put your phone back in your pocket and try to imagine that what you were about to type is being read by me, you mother.  Still okay with it?  Then feel free to take your phone back out and tweet away.

The Pitfall of “Reply All”

“Reply All” can be a force for evil, try not to touch it.  My kids did not have to sign up for email accounts, they were given them by their schools.  I never had access to these accounts and I should have given them the first cardinal rule of email: Beware the reply all button. It can cause damage that, because of the hard evidence, cannot be easily undone.  Also remember, if the school gave you the account, they probably have access to it.

Look Me in the Eye

If you have something important to say, at all important, you must say it in person, whether that person is a peer or an adult. The harder it is to say, the more important it is that you don’t use a phone or a computer.  I love social media as much as the next mom, but it will never replace the look in another person’s eye.

The Real Risks in the Wrong Photos

What might seem harmless to teenagers, sexting, the swapping of inappropriate videos and photos, is the stuff that jail time and public humiliation are made of.  If teens have underage and inappropriate photos on their phones or computers, they are at risk. If their parents use those computers, however unknowingly, they are also at risk.  Forwarding those photos is a criminal act. Do not involve yourself as either sender or recipient, as model or photographer. This may seem amusing for one brief moment, but it will seem like a grave mistake for far, far longer.

The first decade of the 21st century will be remembered as the dawn of social media. For parents it was a journey in uncharted territory.  There were no books, grandparents or pediatricians to ask. And while more continues to be written about bringing kids up in the internet age, each new development demands a new parental response.  Parenting in the Time of Twitter is very much a work in progress, what have you learned?


Social Media, Facebook, twitter, pinterest, wordpress

By Grown and Flown Parenting From the Empty Nest



  1. Michelle Zive says

    This is so brilliant. I worry about my grown children if they will ever have a meaningful relationship that doesn’t involve texting. I’m always saying pick up the phone. Have a conversation in person. I, too, love social media but with this kind of power comes great responsibility. Can I share this on my site? I will of course give you credit, and anything else like a byline, promoting your blog and/or other things. If not, that’s okay. Thanks for writing this.

    • says

      How kind, thank you. I don’t believe that my children have ever lifted the landline in our house, unless I have handed it to them. I am sure they will never have one of their own.

  2. says

    We missed the whole social media thing. As far as computers, I remember it was the chat room that was a new deal but we never let him have a computer in his room so he had no private time. we didn’t let him watch mtv (or much tv at all) or any video games, so I’m afraid I can’t contribute much. We were very “there” doing a lot together, and I guess it worked. He still doesn’t do twitter (thinks I’m silly) and he FBs only every once in a while. He’s a managing director of a division of a literary blog that’s soon to launch in addition to being a Yale prof, so I know he knows all this social media stuff, hopefully in the right perspective.

    • says

      Chat rooms and middle schoolers…that was not a good stage was it? They did not seem to understand the ramifications of the medium and neither did I at the time.

  3. says

    This is such great advice. I’m so thankful my girls were in college before the Internet really exploded. (And they were some of the first on Facebook, back when it was just for college kids.) The teen years were hard enough as it was; I couldn’t imagine adding the drama and trauma of all things online.

    • says

      If you missed it with your children you will watch it, I imagine with your grandchildren. While we couldn’t ask our parents for guidance, I am going to guess our children will ask us as they parent. Especially technologically savvy grandparents such as yourself.

  4. says

    There was no Facebook when I was in high school, but had MSN and that sort of thing. Girls can be mean and the internet makes it easy to back up on someone. I could only imagine what things are done over Facebook.

    • says

      The meanness is such a tough issue, particularly I think, in middle school. So much needs to be done in this area.

  5. says

    What a wonderful post and so true. My family has been pressuring us to allow our son to get a Facebook account..we’re still holding out!

    • says

      I don’t know how old your son is but I made my kids each wait until after 8th grade, it seemed to work well.

  6. says

    Great advice here, Lisa. Because of social media, our kids have sacrificed their privacy without realizing how much they’ve given up. I agree with you that nothing compares to a face-to-face conversation and I try to remind my own kids that anything important must be said in-person. Like discussions about sex and drugs and drinking, conversations about social media must be ongoing with our kids, especially as they get closer and closer to adulthood. And we, as parents, need to keep up with all the new developments in what you rightly refer to as “unchartered territory.”

    • says

      Our kids truly have very different notions of privacy. At first, I admit I thought they were wrong, now I think they are just different. It is so hard to keep up with it all, when it is they, not us, who are on the cutting edge. Parenting in the “00, certainly not what it used to be.

  7. says

    This is a great post and one that made me really stop to think about the things I post. Most of the time on my personal account it’s about my daughter and I wonder what she’s going to think about every knowing when she went #2 in the toilet for the first time…lol!

  8. says

    The internet is definitely open and it’s not a private as one may think it is. Thanks for the reminders.

  9. says

    We parented before facebook, but not by much. We gave this advice constantly, a carryover from stranger danger (ha!), but it still holds up today. You have to exercise caution.

    Great post.

  10. says

    Great advice. My kids were in college before TWitter and FB took off so it wasn’t an issue in high school. Then it was cell phones and “everybody else has one” and helping them navigate the ins and outs of that. If nothing else, the world keeps turning and things keep changing, don’t they? At a more and more accelerated pace it seems.

    • says

      It moves so fast that truly my kids have to keep me up to date. The cell phones as internet device really was a game changer as it is so much more difficult to monitor their activities.

  11. Charlotte says

    This was so spot on, especially the part about the birthday parties. Before social networking, Facebook and Instagram, kids didn’t necessarily know when they were being left out. Now it is there living color for them to see.

    • says

      And so hard on them at younger ages. Social media etiquette is in its infancy, the development will be interesting.

  12. says

    My kids will always be way ahead of me on the intricacies of the latest social media gizmo…but I can still offer them guidance! The concept that it’s “written in ink, not in pencil” is critical; and I think we need to take responsibility for teaching an ethical, do as you would be done by approach to this. Thanks for yet another thought-provoking post.

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