If Your Tweens or Teens Are on Social Media, Go Do This Right Now

published May 30, 2021
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There’s no shortage of coverage on generational wars. The anti-millennial discourse has shifted to rhetoric about Boomers and Karens and jokes about Tide Pods. But as an elder millennial myself, I feel somehow centered in all of it. Defending myself from the older generation (millennials are not teenagers!) and staying relevant with the youths (cheugy? me? no!).

Things get a little messier when you’re parenting Gen Z.

I’m trying to stay relevant with my preteen daughter and a teenage son not for my own personal validation, but because I care about them so much. My younger kid is chatty, and more than happy to engage in any subject she is even moderately interested in. But getting my teenager to open up about what he is into can be harder than getting a toddler to drink from a red cup when they asked for the blue one. But the tactic to get around it is the same. You just have to make it seem like it was their idea.

To do this, I do what millennials do best. I open up Instagram and let the algorithm tell me what’s cool.

Jokes aside, social media has been a great resource for me during this stage of parenting. Digging into your kids’ interests can seem overwhelming, but I just approach it the way I approach my own interests — with a casual social media follow. Tweens and teens all have pop culture niches they’re into, even if they’re not on social media yet. 

My daughter loves “Julie and the Phantoms,” but I definitely, absolutely do not need to rewatch it for the fourth time with her. So I follow the cast members instead, and share the fun behind-the-scenes posts. My son loves sports and baseball. I know which players he thinks are “totally sick, bruh.” I know his favorite rappers and the video games in current rotation. And these are all things that help us connect. And while I probably won’t take the time to watch a ten-minute video of “Greatest Basketball Trick Shots of All Time,” I do follow the #trickshots hashtag on Instagram. This peppers videos in my feed, making it easy for me to source content that I can share with him without doing much work. Following both his team and the MLB means I get to see major announcements and “break” the news to him. It’s “our” team now. 

Who to follow is pretty specific to your individual kid, but I’d recommend starting with whatever pop culture or media they’re into. Singers, athletes, fantasy YA authors, Broadway performers, beauty vloggers, activists. Chances are these personalities are on whatever social media platform you prefer. (I’ve found that pretty much everyone is on Instagram.) 

When you tap “follow” on Twitter or Instagram, the platform will then suggest similar accounts. Scroll through those and follow a few more. Open up their most recent posts and see what hashtags they’re using. Scroll through a few of those and maybe give them a follow. Sports and media journalists (arguably the OG content creators) on Twitter are an excellent way to get industry scoop. 

Another added benefit to this is diversifying the content my kids are exposed to. I follow sports accounts that offer equal coverage to both women’s and men’s professional sports and share wins from both with him. Looking at the athletes on the field and court often shows diversity. But I also make a point to share equity and social justice efforts athletes and leagues may (or may not) be aligning themselves with. 

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The reason this all works so well is because once you’ve set it up, it’s a passive way to gain insight into things you wouldn’t otherwise know. Like scrolling for recipe ideas, but instead of baked feta, it’s a little nugget of info that you can use to connect with your teen. You don’t have to convince them to sit down and do something with you, go anywhere, or commit to anything. 

It’s a simple way of showing them you see where they’re at, and are sort of waving at them from afar.

My husband has attempted to play video games with our son as a way to meet him where he was at, and was immediately shut down. But sharing the date of an album drop or the new seasonal latte at their favorite local coffee shop is different. It’s a simple way of showing them you see where they’re at, and are sort of waving at them from afar. It’s up to them if they want to lumber over and see what else is up with you. But in my experience, greeting my groggy, bed-headed teen in the morning with an exciting fact like, “The game last night went into eleven innings and we won with a three run walkoff!” will get you way more of a reaction than a painful, “Soooo, how ‘bout them A’s?”

It’s the difference between being a try-hard and showing you truly care. Gen Z can smell performative involvement from a mile away.