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, universities and your grandparents to see. One caution, one phrase…clearly a dereliction of duty.


I told my children no more about social media than this, because I knew no more. I grew up as a parent with the Internet and each new thing …Facebook, Twitter, Instagram…was as novel to me as it was to my kids.  I never got ahead of my children, since we learned about social media at the same time.   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.

Looking back I know that I should have done better and told my kids:

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.

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.

Just because it is always open, doesn’t mean that you should always be on. Social media 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.

You will never know the pain you have inflicted through social media so err on the side of discretion. 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’s going to hurt someones feelings, don’t.

Social media 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 social media. 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, your mother. Still okay with it? Then feel free to take your phone back out and tweet away.

“Reply All” can be a force for evil, try not to touch it.  I should have given my kids the 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 your email account, they probably have access to it.

If you have something important to say, 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 use your voice and not your keyboard. I love social media as much as the next mom, but it will never replace the look in another person’s eye.

There is a reason I didn’t let you have a TV in your bedroom or in our kitchen. What we see on a screen is important, but never as important as simply being left alone with our own thoughts or the people we love.

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.

grownandflownheadshotWritten by Lisa Endlich Heffernan

Lisa Endlich Heffernan and Mary Dell Harrington are the voices behind Grown and Flown: Parenting from the Empty Nest. Between them they have five children for a total of 93 years of parenting experience as they hurtle towards their empty nests. Mary Dell has a MBA from Harvard Business School and worked at NBC, Discovery, and Lifetime. Lisa has an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management and worked as a Wall Street trader before becoming an author of three books including New York Times Business Bestseller, “Goldman Sachs: The Culture of Success.” You can follow them on twitter or join in the conversation on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/grownandflown.