Growing up on social media

When it comes to posting pictures on social media we tend to operate a bit like the archetypal cowboy in a spaghetti Western; ‘shoot’ the picture first, ask questions later. This minor epiphany came to mind after reading an article about parents, kids and social media.

Growing up on social mediaGrowing up on social media

The feature posed this question: should parents stop posting pictures of their children online? Not because it is annoying/boring/infuriating for their friends/followers. Instead due to the ‘digital shadow’ they are creating for their child – a treasure trove of embarrassing moments from potty training to the first time they tried to put makeup on.

Should we think before sharing pictures of our kids as they grow up? In the context of maintaining and building strong, positive relationships the answer is yes.

Parent – child relationships and social media

No generation before the ‘millennials’ had to deal with the aftermath of a digital shadow. Of course almost all of us can recall parents showing our new boyfriend/girlfriend embarrassing pictures of us when we were little. That was in a far more intimate and limited setting compared to the realities of growing up on social media.

Nowadays that image (or more likely video) can be shared with hundreds of people. If the parent in question is not particularly savvy with privacy settings, that could multiply to thousands. And it is there to stay. Online and visible until mum/dad work out how to delete their profile or Mark Zuckerburg pulls the plug on Facebook.

Related article: Teens, relationships and social media

Self-image on social media

Growing up on social media
Sarah had just found her mum’s Facebook profile…

Advance a few years and your little darling is now a pre-teen/early teen with their own social media persona. How are they likely to react to all those – undoubtedly cute at the time – pictures and videos? Coming to terms with self-image is one of the toughest issues for adolescents to cope with (and judging by social media, many adults too).

From a relationship perspective maintaining a positive connection between parent and teen through adolescences is naturally a significant challenge. Toss a digital shadow in to the mix for an image conscious teen and the damage could be significant.

The original article that sparked this post went as far as to ask whether parents should seek permission to pre-empt legal action by their offspring later in life. In the USA (somewhat unsurprisingly) there have been attempts to make ‘shaming’ kids online (those potty training pictures again) an offence under law. This all feels too much and plain silly. Can you imagine asking your 2 year-old to slap a palm print on an image rights contract?

Perhaps the answer is much simpler. We should try to be less like John Wayne or Clint Eastwood. Think first and then ‘shoot’.


Relationship counselling and support

The Spark is a leading relationship counselling charity. Through counselling and support for couples, individuals and families across Scotland we help our clients understand and improve their most important relationships. We operate from 17 locations with a team of professional counsellors highly skilled in relationship problems.

Find out more about counselling or complete an enquiry form. You can also call our enquiries team free on 0808 802 0050.

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 crushsocial media selfie-teens-mobile

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’youtube social media

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.

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.

Youth counselling

The Spark offers private youth counselling in our Glasgow, Edinburgh and Paisley locations.

Freephone 0808 802 0050 for more information or complete an enquiry form.

Social media and the celebrity crush

Social media has made the ‘celebrity crush’ more complicated for teens and their parents. In the first of two special blogs we look at how social media has changed the nature of the celebrity crush and how parents can help protect their children.

A childhood rite of passagesocial media and the celebrity crush

A celebrity crush is something of a rite of passage for teenagers. For a while it is all-consuming but it sits firmly in the land of fantasy. Eventually we grow a little wiser and decide we are done with the ‘childish’ obsession. There is damage is done (barring a little embarrassment when it is recalled).

Social media and the teenage celebrity crush

Before the advent of social media, the closest a fan could get to their star would be waiting outside a stage door or joining their fan club. In the main communication between a star and their fans was filtered or managed through media. What they said on TV, radio, in magazines or newspapers was ultimately edited or controlled in some way – from the 9 o’clock watershed to the editor’s red pen. Social media changed all of that.

The ease of communication social media offers and its personalisation is unprecedented. It has never been easier for celebrities to interact directly with their fans, and vice-versa. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat all offer direct avenues for interaction, and the speed of innovation means the next medium of choice for celebs and their fans is probably just around the corner.

Influencing the decisions teens makeSocial media and the celebrity crush

As celebrities always have, they wield significant power and influence over teenagers. They are opinion leaders and opinion formers. With the ability to message and chat directly with their fans online, there is scope for at least misunderstandings around the nature of the relationship.

Stars talk about the love they have for their fans but that love is better classed as philia love – the Greek word for an affectionate love born out of friendship. The potential for this to be misinterpreted or worse still, deliberately manipulated is rightly a concern for parents.

The darker side of celebrity-fan relationships

Earlier this year footballer Adam Johnson was jailed for grooming and sexual activity with a girl aged 15. Johnson had used various social media apps during his relationship with the teenager. This along with other high profile cases demonstrate the ease with which celebrities can influence impressionable teenagers directly.

But what can parents do to help protect their children from these, thankfully, relatively isolated instances?

1. Be involved but not controlling

Try to take a genuine interest in what your teenager is passionate about. This passion will be reflected in their social media interactions and the celebrities and heroes they might communicate with. Developing an understanding of who and what they are interested in will better equip you to be alert to issues that might be arising.

2. Promote positive role models

Where possible promote positive role models to your children. Encourage a focus on celebrities who combine their career with charitable or philanthropic work, or individuals who maintain a more normalised approach to their life. Consider also who you admire and relate to within the celebrity world. Parents are a child’s primary source of learning and massively influence their decisions and attitudes.

3. Talk to them about the influence of celebrities

Use your own personal experiences to highlight how easy and normal it is to getting carried away with a celebrity crush. Do not be judgemental or force your opinion on to your teenager. Instead offer up your experiences as advice and guidance.

Ultimately it is about helping them realise the power celebrities have over their fans and thankfully the small number of incidences when that power is abused.