According to Wikipedia the word parent means to take care of your offspring. Personally I like to think of parenting as an exercise in self-discovery because every time my offspring do something I am challenged to understand I learn something about myself, my tolerance levels, and my personal biases. The truth is my children want for nothing. ‘Suffering’ is not part of my children’s vocabulary and I’m okay with that to a certain point. However I often wonder if they will have the fortitude to make lemonade out of the lemons life deals. For example, tonight my nine year old daughter broke into tears because her voice did not sound good when she was singing the song Titanium. This does not bode well for future struggles she will likely encounter. I’m afraid a chipped finger nail or a hairstyle ruined by the humidity might send her over the edge. I can already tell that I will be doing some major self-discovery during her teen years.

As many people know I work in a school with teenagers so I am fairly used to this age. Most of the time I love teenagers. They are honest, vulnerable, savvy, and I believe every ounce of investment we put in them pays off in dividends in the long term. I said I love them ‘most of the time’ because there are times when I have to repeat Bible verses to myself so I remember to practice ‘unconditional love.’ Teenagers can be very mean and now with so many options in social media, they are can be meaner faster. One Tweet can reach thousands of people instantly and destroy a another person’s reputation at neck breaking speed. Every educator in middle schools and high schools across the world is dealing with the power from of social media.

Social media is a tool that is here to stay so we all need to learn to use it wisely. As parents there are a few things we can do to help our kids navigate this space starting from the ground up:

1. Keep your own personal comments about other people positive. We adults are mature enough not to Tweet that our neighbor just got a face lift but teens are not that mature. They Tweet everything. There seems to be the overriding theory that if it is not Tweeted about, it didn’t really happen. The teens who avoid getting pulled into the cesspool of social drama are the ones who rise above it. Remind your young adult that your family is not the type that spreads mean gossip or says mean things about others.

2. Practice compassion. We all make mistakes. Teens do not have the maturity to overlook them the way us mature adults do. These days when someone makes a stupid mistake which they will ultimately regret, it lives on forever in Instagram rather than fading of into obscurity. Photo evidence gets Tweeted over the internet and commented on by peers and strangers, many of whom hide behind ‘handles’ or random names. If you have ever made mistakes that rocked your own opinion of yourself (which often happens in high school) then you will understand why having that mistake sent to all 1000 of your closest friends can result in a trip to the psych ward because you are convinced your world is over.

3. Follow your kids on their social media. Warning to parents: your children are putting stuff on the internet that would SHOCK you including pictures of themselves wearing little to no clothing, horrible comments about others, and cries for help on their Tumblr blogs. You would also be pleasantly surprise if you knew how nice some of them are in cyberspace. Please note that these to feelings can exist simultaneously. Many teens will not willingly confess they have social media accounts and will likely lie if you ask them if they have these accounts. Parent: “Honey, do you have a Twitter account? I want to follow you.” Child “Nope” – later conversation with friend. “OMG! My mom wants to follow me on Twitter. She would die if she saw pictures from the party last weekend. Hey, since everyone is being so mean to each other let’s start a Twitter feed where we all give each other compliments.” If you notice your child looking constantly at their phone then this is a good indicator that they are following Twitter and not constantly checking the time. Search on Twitter by plugging in their name and looking at the pictures on the left hand side of the page. Please note that many kids change their names or the spelling of their names so they will not be discovered by you. If you can find their friend’ accounts you have a good starting point.

4. Role model filtering your comments. Tell your kids, “Before I say or do anything I might later regret I count to 10 or sleep on it to make sure that is the message I want out to put out there.” Many young people are very good at modulating their own behavior but many are not. If you child is a ‘blurter’ and has been known to say inappropriate things than this comment is especially for you parents. The moment a thought or opinion comes into their minds they are putting it out there for the whole world to see.

5. Keep all passwords and check your child’s phone regularly. If you are paying for the phone, it is yours. Parenting is not always fun. We want to honor our kid’s privacy but we also need to let them know we are the boss. Many kids actually don’t think their parents are bold enough to take over their phones and which is why they will actively strategize online how to snowball you into letting them go to an unsupervised party.

6. Cut the phone off during the school day. Teachers hate cell phones. Before you think, “Well the teachers should take the phones!” Please know that if the teacher takes the phone in class and breaks it, or loses it, the teacher may then have to pay for it. Many teachers already work an extra job to make ends meet. Make their lives easy by contacting your service provider and having parental controls in place so your offspring can’t text during the day. (Yes, your child may start to cry, say they hate you, and mean it if you do this. On the upside their grades will likely improve.)

7. Have a cell phone “bed” time. I can assure you that the late night gossiping and flirting happening at 1:00 am is not improving your child’s sleeping patterns or grades. Unfortunately romance and gossip are always more fun than learning about the Pythagorean Theorem. Make it a family rule that all phones and media devices are in one place at 10:00 or whenever you deem appropriate. If they complain that their iTouch as their favorite music on it then this my be a good time to introduce them to the concept of suffering.

Social media is a reflection of us. It is not good or bad unless we make it so. Parenting is really about giving our offspring the tools they need to go out into the world and be successful. Help your off spring reflect the best in themselves and others.

Kristin Hiemstra and Founder and President of the Art of Potential. Check out Kristin Hiemstra’s Hired in 30. Follow her on Twitter @callingkristin. Check out her website: http://www.artofpotential.com.

image by valeri vizhanksi via flickr