Navigating the Web with Adopted or Foster Tweens and Teenagers

The internet and social media are great tools for research, entertainment, and connection. It is likely that your tween or teen already has a lot of online experience, good or bad. You probably feel like you are catching up all the time. How do you navigate cyber safety, social media culture, and screen time without compromising the bond and connection with your tween or teen?

We created this resource guide to provide you with a starting point for learning about the dangers of the internet and social media activities. Again, your tweens and teens probably already know a lot more than you do about the latest apps, technology, and dealing with parents trying to keep up. This guide provides excellent open doors for you to start conversations with your children about what you are learning. They can be open to what concerns or bother them and a mindful presence to help them navigate and find solutions that work for them.

Find out about the dangers of the internet and social media

If you haven’t already, do some research on the risks of long screen time in the developing brain. There are many reputable resources out there that you can get your information from. Some that might be helpful are:

An excellent conversation starter about what you’re learning with your tween or teen might look like this:

I read today that being on the phone too close to bed instead of relaxing it stimulates my brain. I wonder if this is why I sleep so restlessly when I first fall asleep. Is this happening to you

You can “toss” this conversation ball and have your child either toss it back (for further conversation) or drop it (and you’ve planted the seed for thought).

Black teen girl at the computer while dad watches

Create a family internet safety plan

Apply what you’ve learned about the risks and benefits of the internet and social media to help you create some basic family rules. Keep in mind, however, that an older child you adopted may have had little or no supervision over internet safety or safe social media practices. Rules may feel oppressive or unnecessary to him at the beginning. In this case, we recommend that you start slowly and together with your tween or teen.

Your focus should be on building trust and helping them feel safe in your care during your early days together. If you set hardline rules, they may not show up on the internet while you’re in the kitchen with you. But it won’t teach them how to behave safely if sneaking online at a friend’s place or under the covers after falling asleep.

The first goal of setting limits to how your family can use the internet is to keep your children safe.

Second, you want to teach your children to navigate and choose wisely in order to protect themselves.

Most internet safety resources have a variety of general guidelines or topics for developing your family’s internet and social media safety plan:

1. Keep computers away from bedrooms.

This is a good general rule, but it is not an absolute rule in many adoptive and foster families. This, in turn, depends on when your child came home and what their previous experience was. If your tween or teen comes to you and already owns a device or two, you should work out sensible compromises together.

Of course, in our current culture of virtual or hybrid learning, concessions have to be made here as well. Discuss what electronics can be used in their bedrooms and when.

2. Enforce the rules consistently and fairly.

Remember, the goal is not only to keep them safe, but also to expand their skills, to choose wisely, to protect themselves. So be ready to give them a voice and choice in these rules and consequences conversations.

3. Limit the screen time.

Engage your tween or teen in conversations about how much time they think is appropriate and explain your limits. Find a middle ground to start and be flexible with the details, especially if your child is not used to having these parameters.

Be ready to check in and revisit this conversation anytime you see your tween or teen succeed or struggle. Keep an “open door policy” with you, taking into account the circumstances we are currently facing, such as virtual schooling and social distancing. You may not have any other social option – or limited opportunities for social interaction – so set your boundaries, but listen to what your tween or teen is saying.

4. Stay up to date with the trends on social media.

Find out about the latest apps, trends, and social media etiquette. It all changes very quickly, but you can ask your tweens and teens to help you study. This time together can have the benefit of making connections and helping you immerse yourself in their world. There will likely be a lot of teachable moments popping up, but you don’t have to maximize each one each time. Place the opportunities and toss this “conversation ball” occasionally to see if the child is receptive to speaking more.

teen girl lies on the bed with phone in hand and looks nervous

Tips for talking to tweens and teens

5. Keep the conversation open.

Ask your tween or teen what apps they use, why they like them, and how they feel about interacting online. Take his thoughts and feelings seriously – the age of the internet and social media is his reality. He needs to know that you are there for him without judgment.

If he shares, it’s important not to overreact or panic. Instead of bringing your anger or frustration into the conversation, keep calm and ask questions. You want to create an open and safe space that your children can share with you. Being an intentional listener will encourage them to share without fear of judgment or repercussions.

6. Teach your tweens and teenagers to trust their guts.

Remember, the goal is not just to protect our children. It’s about equipping them to protect themselves. Please encourage them to speak openly about what they are seeing and why certain interactions feel uncomfortable. Then believe them. Hold your discomfort to be addressed later. Reinforce their feelings by reassuring them that you may also be uncomfortable.

7. Invest in a robust internet security monitor.

Various security tools on the market block or at least slow down your grandson’s access to inappropriate websites. These apps offer a wide range of services, such as: B. blocking, requiring passcodes for certain apps and websites, and setting timers for internet use.

Here are some popular parental controls:

Consumer Advocate’s 10 Best Parental Control Apps for 2020 has more information on all of these monitors and more.

For more information on developing your family’s internet and social media safety plans, visit the following websites:

asian teen boy sitting on the couch in front of his computer

Be firm but flexible

Make it clear to your adoptive and foster tweens and teenagers what to expect from them and their online behavior. Describe the consequences you will enforce if he tries to circumvent your rules and security guidelines. Offer grace for the learning curve, especially if he has not previously benefited from loving, safe boundaries around him.

You will find that we said “when” rather than “when” he was trying to bypass the rules. Remember, experimentation, breaking boundaries, and challenging authority are typical milestones in tween and teen development. These behaviors are necessary to build intelligence and gain life experience as you prepare for adulthood.

We get it – it feels riskier now when the whole world is in their hands. Remember, you are not alone in this fight. There is a ton of support out there to help you learn and grow with your children as you protect them and teach them to defend themselves.

This article was originally published by Creating a Family on March 17, 2021. You can find the original article here.

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