Using Social Media to Help Our Kids Define Themselves

“How do you keep track of what your kids are doing on social media?”

Parents of tweens wrangle with the question of whether or not to set them up with a social media account and the bigger question of, “How do we keep track of what they are doing?”

The common answer I hear focuses on proactively monitoring.  But how could parents be even more proactive?

I attended a session at a Grace Hopper Conference a few years ago that focused on managing your personal brand in social media.  I learned a lot.  As I consider what I learned in the session, I think a lot of this could apply to our teenagers and we could turn their activity on social media into a huge opportunity for helping them discover who they are.

Tip #1:  Choose 5 words you’d use to describe yourself.  Post things that will encourage others to use those words about you.

What a WONDERFUL discussion to have with your teenager!  This is a great catalyst for pushing THEM to think about who THEY want to be.  What words would you want your children to use about themselves?  Smart, dependable, responsible, kind?  Needing to get through this exercise in order to get that social media account set up feels like a GREAT incentive and might set the stage for positive experiences on social media.

Tip #2:  Choose between 1 and 3 primary topics to focus on via your social media presence.

This is another great opportunity.  What are your kids interested in?  Do they HAVE any interest?  “Hanging out with my friends” doesn’t count.  Again, this is a great way to help our teenagers find constructive interests that help them grow into amazing young adults.  Football, baseball, math club, computer club, cheerleading, volunteer work, their dream college — there are so many wonderful things for our kids to focus on.  This exercise can help bring focus to how our kids are spending their time.

Tip #3:  Write down these 5 words and areas of focus where it’s easy to reference.  As you post content on social media, refer to this and see if you’re still on message.

As adults, by the time we were on social media, we already know who we are (for the most part).  When we hear horror stories of what some teenagers post on the internet, could this be a symptom of them just not knowing who they are and simply stumbling through the painful process of figuring it out?  And not understanding the huge negative consequences of posting and documenting those mistakes forever?  As parents, if we can help them understand this concept of a personal brand, can we help them avoid some of these mistakes and even more proactively figure out who they want to be.

Last, after having this conversation, as we continue to proactively monitor our kids’ activities on the internet, when we see something we don’t like, I imagine we could have a MUCH more constructive conversation with them.  Did that post fit in with the 5 words you want people to use to describe you?  Why?  Maybe as they are evolving, it’s time to revisit that list of words and revise it — intentionally.

I’m just starting down this road so I haven’t put any of these ideas into practice myself.  I’d love to hear comments from other parents on what they think of this idea so we can all help each other navigate this new world of raising teenagers who are out there on the internet.

Is Business Travel Easier in a Split Family?

I don’t travel much for my job at Microsoft but as I’m heading to Minneapolis to attend this year’s Grace Hopper Celebration Conference, I’m feeling grateful for one of the few benefits of having a split family: the flexibility to travel worry free.

I share custody with my kids’ dad.  While I’m at the conference, focused on learning, networking and recharging my batteries, I won’t be worried about my kids because they are in great hands.  And they are literally at home.  Since their dad handles things just fine on his own all the time, the routine isn’t even that out of the ordinary.

My son has Autism so changing the routine can be especially difficult for him.  We plan these trips well in advance, put the information on the family calendar as well as our shared Outlook calendar that my son can see on his phone.  When he knows what’s coming, he can anticipate the change in the routine and handle it quite well.  As he headed to his Dad’s after school yesterday with our babysitter, OFF our normal Monday schedule, he sent me a text message, “Have a good time on your vacation.”  🙂  He knows the routine is different.  He knows why.  And he’s just fine.

It’s not always easy for spilt families to get along.  And things aren’t always coming up roses for us either.  But one thing we’ve never argued about is knowing that we need to do what is best for our kids.  Part of this is a fundamental understanding that supporting one another in our careers is one big way that we can do what is best for our kids.

Two weeks ago, my ex-husband had a business trip AND needed to be in a wedding in another state.  We give each other advance notice.  We adjust the schedule.  The kids stay stable in their home and school routines and we are able to do the things we need to do for work and even our personal lives.  It works.  Sure, I could get help from other family members in a pinch but since being with their dad is also being at home for my kids, it’s the best option for them, which makes it the best option for me.

How do we keep track of all of these exceptions in the schedule?  Outlook Calendar.  I keep a calendar that I share with the kids AND our babysitter.  I share appointments with my ex that show what day the kids are with him, what day they are with me, and any other appointments related to the kids.  He can see all of these appointments in his work calendar, his single calendar.  We’re always looking at the same calendar and it helps keep things straight.

As I travel this week, it will cause OTHER exceptions to the weekly routine.  My husband is traveling with me (ANOTHER bonus!) so he won’t be going to guitar lessons with my son this week.  We’ve updated that appointment in the calendar to say “No Guitar Lesson / Jeff is out of town”.  This will serve as a reminder to the babysitter and will also remind my son of the change, making it easier for him to handle it that day.


So if things aren’t this smooth in your world, I highly recommend making changes so you can find this same level of flexibility and coordination with your ex.  It will help get both parents focused on a common goal:  stability and predictability for the kids AND it will let you both focus on your careers or whatever personal goals you’re working on.  Happy parents = happy kids.  Isn’t that what we’re all working for anyway?