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Ask a Professional: My son has been using social media and group chat inappropriately

Ask a Professional: My son has been using social media and group chat inappropriately

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Linda-ROPro

Ask a Professional: My son has been using social media and group chat inappropriately

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I've just found out that my almost 13 year old son has been sending quite rude and offensive comments in a group chat. He isn't bullying anyone as such but he is engaging with the chat in a way that is not ok, including sharing a picture of some celebrity butt and making overtly sexual comments and being over the top rude with sexual comments and bad language that don't seem at all consistent with the tone of the rest of the group chat. This was brought to my attention by another concerned parent and I've been asked to have my son remove himself from the group chat which I will absolutely do. I'm sitting awake trying to figure out how to handle this when he wakes up. I've been on the esafety website and raisingchildren.net but there is so much info its a bit overwhelming and also related to protecting children from others online (ie blocking) but what do I do when my child is the problem???? He also has quite severe anxiety and alot of his communication and sense of connection comes from online communication so I don't want to take this away from him completely. My questions are:

* How do I monitor my son's phone and internet interactions? (He has his own phone)

* How much monitoring is too much monitoring? (I know teenagers deserve some privacy and opportunity to connect with their peers and figure some of this stuff out themselves)

* What would you do??? Consequences etc. (His 13th birthday is in 2 weeks and he was going to be getting a new tv, phone and xbox upgrade)

Update: We've had a talk this morning and he's shown me through the chats and has removed himself from all group chats. He doesn't have his phone today and I told him we would talk more after school about what needs to change moving forward.

 

Hi @Sunglasses

You seem like a very attentive and responsible parent. It sounds like your son’s behaviour in the group chat came as quite a surprise to you. This is understandable - you don’t mention past similar behaviour, so it sounds like he hasn’t been rude or offensive in other contexts.

Sometimes group chat (and other online communication) can provide a sense of freedom that can be both good and bad. It can be good because it can reduce anxiety around social situations and make it easier for teens to talk, but it can also have a downside - sometimes people will say things that they would not say in person, and not really consider consequences and the impact on other people in the same way.

You mentioned that he isn’t bullying anyone ‘as such’, but it sounds like the rude and sexual comments are tending in this direction. Responding to behaviour as soon as you become aware of it is a great way to prevent things getting out of hand, so now is a good time to explore what is happening more generally for your son. It sounds like you have already spoken with him, which is a good first step - getting his perspective on what happened as well as generally on how things are going for him can make him more willing to listen to your concerns and encourages open communication.

Teens can be rude or disruptive in how they communicate or can bully others for a variety of reasons. For instance, teens who are struggling to make friends will sometimes behave in different ways to see what will result in attention or approval from others, or to express their anger and frustration. If this is the case for your son, then focusing on addressing the cause of the behaviour (for instance finding other ways to express anger) can help.

You mention your son has severe anxiety. If he is not currently having any treatment for this, I would recommend this as something to consider. He is at a really good age to learn skills to manage and reduce symptoms of anxiety. This can be something which improves his ability to cope with some of the challenges of the teenage years.

If anxiety or other concerns are a factor in his behaviour, I am not suggesting that this is an excuse or that it should mean there are no consequences. Consequences are an important part of learning. I think having his online communication monitored more closely is a really natural and sensible consequence.

@kidfitmindset and @Philippa-RO have already made some great suggestions about monitoring. I’d encourage you to be transparent with him that you will be monitoring his phone use (it sounds like you were planning on this, but sometimes parents feel that they need to monitor without the teen knowing, which can create problems down the track!).

You show great awareness that he also needs to be able to communicate online in order to remain socially connected. There’s no universal ‘right’ amount of monitoring - it does depend on your comfort level and can vary over time. In fact, having a relatively higher level of monitoring to start, and providing more freedom and flexibility as your son demonstrates he can communicate responsibly can be a way of creating a reward for good behaviour.

Best wishes,
Linda

 

Linda is a psychologist experienced in working with people across the lifespan, including teenagers and their families, in a variety of settings, and is ReachOut's Clinical Lead.

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