Tips for parenting middle school kids using texting and social media

Monday, October 7th, 2013

Cyber Safety for Kids and Families on The Fish 103.9 Family Morning Show

Texting teen by Summer Skyes II via Flickr

The biggest concern parents have is the undue influence texting and social media has on their children. The best way to counter undue influence is to provide quality attention and take an active interest in what is happening with your child (beyond sports and grades) and help them put the texting and social media apps in proper perspective for their lives.

The trustworthy parent is the one who does not freak out when inappropriate or frightening content is found on the devices. Rather the confident parent focuses on their own child’s ability to think for herself and make good decisions, and stand corrected in the wake of poor choices, and is in a better position to inspire course correction when things go wrong.

For this very reason, every law enforcement officer I have spoken with stresses the importance of good communication between the parent and child to address the risky on-line stuff like sexual exploitation and bullying.

This is much easier said than done, or it wouldn’t be such a common problem.

How many of us parents believe that by having rules that itemize taboos is all that is needed? How many of us parents believe that by being permissive we can simply supervise the risky stuff? How many of us parents believe that when we talk about right and wrong and set expectations that that is communication?

The cyber technology is very seductive and distracting; children are easily consumed with the passive and addictive interactions via texting and social media apps. The science shows that there is a chemical reaction in the brain when responding to the notification of a text or anticipating a “like” to something you posted that is similar to drug addiction. And so it is important that we condition our children to think clearly about being in command over the cyber tool, rather than allowing the tool to enslave their personal time and attention.

So yes having ground rules and standards for conduct is important. And these standards must be modeled by the adults, and always reflect the common goals of personal security for family members. By the same token, the reality is that the first decade is when our children are more apt to listen to what we have to say, mostly by watching to see that what we do matches what we say. And by the time the second decade hits, we must shift to a listening mode primarily. We must be interested in what is happening in our children’s lives, not to control them but to help them assert self control.

Middle school cyber “rite of passage”: Junior Explorer (11 to 15 years of age)

During middle school kids are entering a new era of self-expression and the search for identity and a way to fit in takes on a new emotional intensity. The shift of focus is from family and close friends, to establishing a presence in a community with peers.  In the cyber realm, middle school marks a cyber rite of passage, which I call, the Junior Explorer (11 to 15 years) and it requires parental attention and monitoring of all cyber communications.

The three most common things that kids experience in their cyber-powered communications during middle school are gossip, bullying and sexually explicit images.

Chances are great that your child has already been exposed to connections and images that are disturbing, or they have witnessed risky situations with their friends or peers. So the most important thing we can do as parents is to make sure home is a “safe place” to talk about what is happening on and off line, and then establish ground rules for how the cyber communications will be monitored. Below are a few tips:

  • Become the trusted resource for your child by not expressing “judgy” and critical opinions about other people’s children getting caught doing in appropriate things. The cyber technology makes it easy for kids to believe things that are not true and get caught in risky traps. Your child needs to know she can come to you if she is caught up in something risky. Always think to yourself, “If it were my child…”  Law enforcement will tell you “the not my kid” syndrome is the denial that enables kids from good homes to get into boatloads of trouble.
  • Establish use of wireless mobile devices is a privilege with great responsibility, not a right.
  • No such thing as privacy. Explain privacy as personal stuff you keep from the world, not from parents. Conduct daily random checks on the devices.
  • Establish a time of day to turn in and recharge devices.
  • Keep a list of apps (texting/social media/games) your child is using which have been pre-approved.  Review the list periodically with your child and have them show you how they are using them.  Note: social media and texting apps are a dynamic phenomenon, and young people migrate away from apps like Facebook which are widely populated by adults. The kids will always be seeking their own digital hangouts, even though they may have a Facebook account. Some examples include: Instagram, SnapChat, kik! So it is important that your children are comfortable sharing with you the latest and greatest apps.

Before the internet, we had a no profiling without parental permission rule in our home. The premise is that the parent is the guardian and so the parent decides what personal information to give out and to whom. It was a personal security thing. For the cyber-powered world wherein there is a constant call to give up personal data and security in order to “belong” or “fit in”, this profiling rule has greater significance.  Get your kids in the habit of conducting a review so there can be a mindfulness about whether or not to invest personal time, data and energy to create an account.  Get your kids thinking about how much personal power they will not give up in the social network.

Pleasant words promote instruction. -Proverbs 16:21 

Our children get a lot of fear and fakery in the social network. Let home be a sanctuary rooted in truth and governed with a heart at peace.

Free downloads of Joanna’s new book: A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media, on these dates:

October 12 and 13, 2013

October 26 and 27, 2013

November 5, 2013


Joanna Jullien
(Photo: Christi Benz)

Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She a mother of two grown sons, the author of The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture, produces The Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner column on, and is the CyberParenting advisor on The Fish 103.9FM. Her new book, A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media is now available for PC and all eReader formats including Kindle, Nook, iPad.


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About Joanna Jullien

Joanna Jullien

Joanna ( and her husband have raised two sons in Roseville, CA. She has a degree from U.C. Berkeley in Social Anthropology (corporate culture). Her honors thesis was awarded the Kroeber Prize and funding from National Science Foundation grant. Joanna writes to help parents with the modern-day leadership challenges of raising children. She is a contributing writer for The Granite Bay View, the Press Tribune, the Sacramento Examiner, and editor of Banana Moments.