Media Moment – Privacy is as privacy does

Boy privacy picIt’s no secret that parents and teens have very different concepts of online privacy. Parents are concerned that personal information will be viewed by an unintended audience or by strangers, while teenagers often care very little about strangers and/or oversharing—but under no circumstances do they want their parents to see their postings. Wrestling with the difficult questions of adolescent development—What is going on with my body? Who am I? How should I behave? Who am I interested in and how do I let them know?—is hard under any circumstances, but for many teens, having your mom or dad get involved in these questions is embarrassing and to be avoided at all costs.

A 14-year-old patient of mine was very irritated when his father (following my advice) insisted on having his son’s passwords as a condition of allowing him a social media account and smartphone. My Patient negotiated  more than once, but Dad held the line. In spite of his initial annoyance, knowing that his father could see his online activities helped my patient develop safe behaviors, such as not posting personal information or inappropriate pictures. Soon, the boy had adopted these healthy social media habits as his own and even lost his constant awareness that his father might monitor him. As a result of his good digital citizenship, his father checked up on him less and less often.

One day his dad came across a posting between him and his best friend, a boy with whom he had palled around since second grade. The friend was selling marijuana to their classmates, gaining a lot of new social status in their high school and urging my patient to join in this enterprise, which made my patient profoundly uncomfortable. His responding post was cautiously equivocal; it was clear that he did not want to threaten his long-time friendship, and he also didn’t want to sell pot.

While driving home from band practice, his dad mentioned in a respectful and supportive way that he had the exchange of messages, and was proud of his son’s strength in knowing what he did and did not want to do. Mentioning also that it must be hard for him to be in such a sticky situation with his best friend, Dad offered to talk it through. Rather than being angry that his father had pried, the teen was relieved that he would not be punished or lose his online access and was able to share his dilemma with his father, who helped him navigate a difficult social situation.

As the pair relayed these moments to me, I thought about the positive power of social media in the situation; it provided a space for my patient to try out ways of communicating and building relationships with others on his own, while his father’s involvement with his online activities, gave him the opportunity to sort through a very adult dilemma with the support and wisdom of a caring and respectful parent.

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,
The Mediatrician®