Social media often gets a bad reputation when it comes to how much time children and teens spend glued to their phones – but there are lots of ways that social media can be a tool for good in the hands of a teen.
As a foster carer, you can make social media a positive experience for your foster teen by helping them to be aware of the risks and empowering them to take advantage of the benefits.
The ups and downs of teens and social media
Social media issues for teenagers can be rife, and most parents are aware of the dangers. Cyber-bulling is a real problem, and studies show that too much time spent on social media can lead to feelings of low self-esteem and depression amongst teens who compare themselves to unrealistic ideals they see online.
While these are serious concerns, you can help your teen limit the negative consequences by encouraging them to enjoy social media in moderation. Teens need time to enjoy life offline – exercise and face-to-face socialisation are both important for their growing brains and bodies.
In fact, a 2019 study found a strong link between the negative effects of social media and a lack of exercise brought about by too much time spent online. That means balancing time on devices with plenty of physical activity can help mitigate some of social media’s more harmful effects.
Face social media together
• Empower your teen to use social media safely.
Talk about what is safe to share online and what isn’t, and make sure your foster teen knows what to watch out for to avoid online predators, scammers, and cyberbullies. Teach them to recognise false information and to think critically about what they read and see online.
Help them understand the risks to their mental health and self-image and decide together how to deal with these feelings if they come up. Make sure they know how to change their privacy settings on different platforms.
Looking for more guidance on internet safety? The UK Safer Internet Centre has a host of resources for teens from 11-19.
• Encourage self-expression.
Not only can social media be a great way for teens to explore new things like art, culture, and history, it’s also a versatile tool for self-expression. Many creative teens use social media to showcase their own art and performances, while others use it as a platform for building a unique personal brand through what they share and how they engage with online communities.
Using social media in this way can teach a teen digital skills and build an online presence that will put them in a good position for future education and job prospects. You can help your teen build their digital skills through online and in-person courses, such as photo/video editing and content creation. Check out BT’s Skills for Tomorrow portal for a host of free family resources.
• Keep connected.
For foster children, social media can be a useful way to keep in touch with old friends and family members and build important connections for the future. It also helps many teens strengthen friendships and build communities around shared experiences and interests – particularly when it’s not possible to see one another in person (like when schools are closed, or across long distances).
Being a teen can be lonely if you feel like you don’t fit in, but you can always find someone who’s interested in the same things you are online – whether that’s someone who loves the same band you do or someone from a similar cultural background.
• Inspire your foster teen to do good.
With the world more connected through social media, teens today have access to a lot more information on global issues – and many more ways to have an impact. Consider 17-year-old Greta Thunberg; in two years, she’s been able to reach a global audience with her message of fighting climate change and now has an Instagram following of over 10 million.
Help your teen find an issue that they care about and encourage them to get involved and have a positive impact, such as promoting community initiatives and organisations.
• Be involved.
Model healthy social media use by not looking at your phone during meals or family activities, and limit screen time close to bedtime.
Follow your foster teen on social media and make time to chat with them – in person and in a non-judgemental way – about what they and their friends are posting and seeing online. Share interesting and educational feeds with them and keep communication open so your teen knows they can talk to you if they see or experience anything upsetting online.
Teenagers can be truly inspiring with the passion and energy they bring, but many teens suffer without a safe space to grow up. If you have the room to give a young person a stable and supportive home, get in touch today. You can also read our article about fostering teenagers here.