Teens, Relationships and Social Media

Before the advent of social media, parents had an easier time keeping track of the teenage celebrity crush. Celebrity crushes used to be someone from music, TV, sport or film. By virtue of their prominence in mainstream media, parents had a better chance of monitoring who their son or daughter adored. Plus those stars always seemed safely unattainable despite the manner in which they could influence impressionable teens.

In our second blog on social media and teens, we look at the growing sub-culture of social media stars that rarely feature in the mainstream media.

Social media and the teenage crush

Social media has fundamentally and rapidly changed those circumstances. It has become more complicated and more risky for teens and parents as recent news reports have demonstrated. Three things in particular have changed.

Firstly there has been a redefinition of who a celebrity is and what they are famous for. Secondly, the opportunity for celebs and their fans to interact, one-to-one, has never been so easy. Thirdly, these stars that often command the attention and adoration of tens of thousands of teenage fans are no longer unattainable. In fact they can be living just around the corner.

Anyone can be a social media star

The exponential increase in ‘user generated content’ means a celebrity could be someone parents have never heard of, let alone know anything about. In 2016 anyone who can post videos on YouTube, do their own vlog or post to Instagram can become a celebrity and potentially garner thousands of adoring fans.

Anyone can interact with a social media star

Before the advent of social media, the closest a fan could get to their star would be waiting at a stage door or joining their fan club. As covered in the first blog of this series – Social media and the celebrity crush – the new breed of social media stars can interact directly with their fans. Instant messages, private messages and the like have pushed the celebrity crush in to new realms.

Fans, social media stars and ‘meet ups’

Unlike the teenage crushes of the 70s, 80s and 90s the new breed of social media stars are not necessarily distant from their adoring fans.

The stars of these sub-cultures do not ride in limos. They are not surrounded by security. They do not live on millionaires’ row in London. Outside of the online world they are – to all intents and purposes – ordinary people living in pretty ordinary places around the country.  This is where things become complicated.

‘Meet ups’ generally refer to opportunities where the stars of social media – those generating the videos, pictures or blogs – will get together with fans and other content creators. Like all celebrities, the stars of social media have significant power and influence over teenagers. The combination of influence, accessibility and now geographical proximity can be a risky combination.

So what can parents do to educate, support and protect their children in this new digital landscape?

1. Allow ‘meet ups’ but with limits

Putting a blanket ban on meet ups will either drive a wedge between the two of you or see your teenager agreeing to more secretive meetings. Instead offer to support attending a meet up in exchange for some limitations.

For example take them to and pick them up from the meet up (at a safe distance of course!) at agreed times. Expect them to attend with a close friend and ensure that overnight stays following a meet up are off the negotiating table.

2. Ask about him/her as a friend would

Try to take a genuine interest in what your teenager is passionate about as one of their friends would. This passion will be reflected in their social media interactions.

Ask them to tell you about it because you are interested – do not demand to find out. Tell them that you respect their right to privacy as they get older and reinforce that it is your love for them that drives your protection of them. Understanding what interests them will better equip you to be alert to issues that might be arising.

3. Share your own social media experiences

Few parents will not have dabbled with social media in some form. You may feel like (or be) a total technophobe but share your own experiences.

Tell them who you like to follow on Facebook or Twitter (or Instagram if you are a really cool parent!) and why. Talk about how the people you follow on social media might influence (or be able to influence) you, your thoughts and decisions. Use this as a way to help them understand that the influence celebrities have over their fans can be used in positive ways and conversely, for questionable motives.

Help for parents

For more advice and tips on parenting teens check out the Parents and Families section of The Spark website. There you will find a range of free resources, advice and tips for navigating the tricky teenage years.

You can also get specific advice for protecting children online from the NSPCC.

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