teens

"I regret it." Three parents share the age they let their child have a social media account.

SBS The Hunting
Thanks to our brand partner, SBS The Hunting

Ask most parents of a teenager or pre-teen, and they will tell you that parenting in a digital world is not simple.

We’re the guinea pig generation who must blindly make decisions about things like access to Wi-Fi, social media, and exposure to the fickle nature of the internet – with no evidence on how it will impact our kids’ long term physical and mental health.

If you’ve ever wondered how other parents handle this uncharted territory, SBS’s new four-part drama series, The Hunting, will give you some insight.

Starring Asher Keddie in a role that every mother will relate to, the series explores the ever-evolving attitudes, laws, and ethical dilemmas inherent in being online for everyone; students, educators, the police, as well as parents.

When things go very wrong after the non-consensual distribution of an illegal photo of a teenager, every adult in the series questions themselves: When do we interfere? Was there consent? How do we respect privacy, but protect others? Whose privacy matters more?

It’s a minefield, and one many of us dread. Especially when you read statistics like this one: out of teenagers aged 14 to 17, at least 22 per cent of males and 35 per cent of females have either sent or been asked to share “nudes”, according to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner.

As adults, we know we’re supposed to guide with wisdom from experience; but how can we feel confident about doing so, when the digital world is more native to the kids than it is to us?

It’s a concern shared by a lot of parents, including mum-of-three Priya.

“It’s scary not only because we feel the weight of responsibility as parents, but also because it’s a world that we are just learning about ourselves. It was definitely not a part of our own growing up,” Priya tells Mamamia.

As the parents of a 12-year-old who “begged and pleaded” for a Snapchat account earlier this year, Priya and her husband Nikhil had to make a choice in the best interests for their daughter.

“We have been very strict about internet access, because we feel she is still so young, but she wanted this account so much. We caved,” Priya admits.

“All her friends were on it, and she felt left out. We had decided she couldn’t be on social media until she was 16. It’s just not necessary in her life.”

Priya explains that finally, they decided that if other parents were allowing it, perhaps they were being unreasonable. After feeling confident there were privacy settings that would protect their daughter’s account, and enforcing a rule that they would first see anything she intended to post, they gave their permission.

But Priya feels they made one crucial error.

“We insisted we know the password so we could check the account. One day I did, and saw all the sorts of things she’d been seeing. Lots of adult stuff like partying and drinking,” she admits.

ADVERTISEMENT

“I’d been so worried about what she might have posted, I didn’t think about what she might see, and whether it was right for her. We didn’t realise how she could access absolutely anything – anyone’s public content.”

Priya, whose only social media usage is on occasionally on Facebook, now wishes she’d been more aware.

“She’s too young to be able to access all of that so easily, and whenever she wants, I don’t want her to think that’s all life is about,” she says. “We told her to delete her account, and of course, we’ve been fighting about it ever since.

“So, I regret it.”

As it stands, Priya has told her daughter she needs to wait until she’s 13 – which is the age Instagram recommends is appropriate for an account. When that time comes, Priya says she will be better prepared.

The Hunting explores what happens when a teenager’s photo is shared online. Watch the trailer:

Video via SBS Australia

Mum-of-two Bronwyn has had a different experience with social media and her teenager. In contrast to Priya and Nikhil’s “all or nothing” approach, Bronwyn decided to allow her 11-year-old son an Instagram account, using the same principles she applies to her own social media usage.

“We agreed with Mason that he could have his own account at 11. He’s grown up watching me use my account to share family photos and for work,” Bronwyn tells Mamamia.

“It would seem almost hypocritical if he couldn’t have his own account.”

Bronwyn explained that ensured Mason understands the nature of social media.

“I’ve talked to him a lot about why I post the things I do; privacy versus sharing too much information, that kind of thing,” Bronwyn explains. “He’s seen me deal with negative comments. He knows that not everyone is kind, and that it’s not the end of the world.”

Bronwyn also reveals that Mason is very “digital-savvy”: “He’s been using his Go-Pro, uploading videos to his computer, that kind of thing, for years. He watches a lot of YouTube. He seems to understand the internet, he knows all the sites and the apps that the cool kids are using, like TikTok.

“It made me confident he’d be fine with Instagram. I followed his account, and he follows me.”

ADVERTISEMENT

But after Mason opened his own account, something happened that Bronwyn wasn’t prepared for.

“He barely looks at it! I think because he was exposed to it through me, that novelty, mystery, isn’t there,” she says. “I think as he gets older he might get more engaged. Right now, he checks on his mates’ accounts and likes their posts, so it’s good for him to be involved with that.

“But I think it’s just not that exciting for him, and I think that’s great. I’m proud he can be so moderate about it, and not obsessed.”

That’s something mum-of-two Shona says is not the case with her 15-year-old, Daniel, who is constantly on Snapchat and Instagram.

“Daniel got accounts when he was 13,” Shona explains. “Becoming a teenager seemed like the right age to give him that independence.”

Social media usage is something Shona is pragmatic about.

“That’s the way of the world now, right? Sharing and creating content online is an integral part of the way we live,” she says. “I don’t want Daniel to be left out or behind because he doesn’t get it. And I don’t mean just socially, I mean in terms of future job opportunities, too.”

Shona explains that’s why Daniel has always had almost unfettered access to the internet.

“We’ve got a very close relationship, and he’s always talking to me about what he’s seeing online. He sends me links all the time,” she says. “He’ll come into the bathroom when I’m in the shower to force me to watch a video he’s just seen. He asks questions – too many questions!

“But I love it. I encourage it. You can’t live life with your head in the sand, and it creates opportunities for us to talk about stuff.

“And I’m really hoping my openness means that if there’s ever an issue, he’ll be comfortable asking for my help.”

Shona is so happy with how her approach to the digital world and social media has been successful with Daniel, she says it won’t change for her now eight-year-old daughter.

Her approach is the most similar to that of the parents in The Hunting, whom, at some point, decide to trust their teenagers with their online activities.

They do what we all will eventually do; have faith that we’ve raised them right. Hope they don’t make mistakes.

But, then, as they learn the hard way, also be prepared to be there if they do.

The Hunting airs on Thursdays at 8.30pm. Episodes are available each week on SBS On Demand.

SBS has launched an online educational toolkit to help parents talk to their kids about issues around sex and cyber-safety, in conjunction with The Hunting. For more information, visit www.sbs.com.au/learn/the-hunting.

SBS The Hunting

Asher Keddie and Richard Roxburgh explore sex, trust and consent in new Australian drama The Hunting, from August 1st on SBS and SBS On Demand. Watch the trailer here.

00:00 / ???