Question: I never imagined allowing my daughters to begin dating would be such an emotional rollercoaster — thanks to social media! I know if a relationship doesn’t end well for one of them, social media will only prolong the heartache or, in some cases, the drama. It seems like their moods go up or down depending on what they find on social media that day about “the guy.” I can’t tell you how many family trips have been ruined based on some crushing (or ambiguous) text or post one of my daughters came across. Does anyone else deal with this? How can I help them stop this obsessive behavior? ~ Frustrated Dad
Answer: Wow, having two daughters of dating age has got to be tough, you deserve a medal. We can empathize, and you are not alone. Thanks to social media, there’s no such thing as a simple break up anymore. Now a break-up comes with a ritual that may include constantly overanalyzing posts, tweets, captions, likes, new connections, and photos. The temptation for teens to check up on one another or “creep” is huge. Technology, emotion, and hormones can seem obsessive at times and may even lead to a technology addiction.
Not just a teen thing
To clarify: It’s not just teens who creep on other accounts for hours at a time. Plenty of adults have become pros at the sport of social creeping. For teens and adults alike, If you’ve ever dabbled in the excessive zone or watched someone else obsess, you know it can be emotionally and physically exhausting. And for all the hours of digging, the creeping rarely renders a positive return for the person digging.
It’s not just teens who creep on other accounts for hours at a time. Plenty of adults have become pros at the sport of social creeping. For teens and adults alike, If you’ve ever dabbled in the excessive zone or watched someone else obsess, you know it can be emotionally and physically exhausting. And for all the hours of digging, the creeping rarely renders a positive return for the person digging.
The knowledge that excessive “checking” on another person’s online life is not healthy or productive is rarely a deterrent for someone who is determined. So what can you do to encourage your teenager (or even yourself) to ween and eventually quit this counterproductive hobby? A few things.
8 tips to help curb the creeping
1. Logic. The person snooping knows it’s not healthy but likely hasn’t slowed down long enough to understand exactly how unhealthy. A) Ask your child how many hours a day, a week, a month, they check on “that” person’s account. Have them add it up. They may be shocked. B) Have them list anything they’ve discovered that has made them feel good about themselves or their relationship with the other person. It’s likely that list will be short if not empty. C) Gently ask: “To what end? What is the benefit of this? How does it make you feel?” Then be quiet and let them talk.
2. Basic digital housecleaning. Encourage your child (or your friend or yourself) to unfollow, delete phone numbers, or even block a person they are trying to break ties with. This may cause panic since in your teen’s world, doing this is akin to social exile and could extinguish (in their eyes) any hope for a future reconciliation. Start small and set a goal. Ask your child to do this for two weeks. You might be surprised how your teen comes to his or her own conclusions to break the habit for good.
3. Stay busy. If you keep touching a wound, it will never heal. And if you keep creeping, your heart will never mend. Imagine what we could do all do if we didn’t waste two hours checking your phone each day. Encourage your son or daughter to get a new hobby, try out for a new sport, or do something fun with family or friends instead of troll the Internet piecing posts together.
4. Don’t overcompensate. A heartbroken teen won’t notice it but a tough love parent or group of friends will. If your child begins subtweeting a lot, overposting fun, adventurous photos, or serial dating, it’s a sign that the healing process is off. Step in and respectfully and gently redirect your teen to limiting posting until his or her heart is healthier.
5. Get some tools. Any kind of filtering or blocking software will help your child, friend (or you) stop creeping or compulsively checking up on others almost immediately. Many software programs also print out activity reports for accountability (a parent, a friend, a spouse can help keep you on track in this area).
6. Smartphone filtering. If you go into your settings on your iPhone or Android, you will be able to block specific websites from your phone. This is extremely helpful. However, it’s also easy to get around with a passcode. So, if your child or friend is serious about changing his or her behavior, they will allow you to set the passcode for them. The “restrictions” passcode on your phone is different than your main security passcode.
7. PC filtering apps. If you are a techy and understand basic code, you can block specific website via your PC network. However, if you are like most people, you need an easier solution such as a Google Chrome extension (see right) that will easily block addictive sites.
8. Unplug the temptation. If willpower, accountability, filtering, and logic fails, encourage (or mandate) your child to unplug for several hours a day. Turn the hours into a full day or two a week. This will likely mean you physically take their phone while they are forced to pursue other activities.
These are tough years, and when you add the power of social media into the mix, it can be overwhelming. Being a teen (and the parent of a teen) has never had so many moving parts or challenges. As with all habits, different solutions work with different people. Be flexible, try different things — but try. The situation will likely not heal itself. Empathize with your child’s temptation to seek information and respect his or her recovery process but keep an eye on the effect technology plays in that process. Lastly, be sure to seek professional help if you see signs of internet addiction in your child or someone you know. Trust your gut; you know when a behavior has evolved to something unhealthy.
Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @McAfee_Family and @ToniBirdsong.