Teens with ADHD

“Did I Really Just Post That?!” The Social Media Guide for Teens

Judging and preaching simply don’t work. Instead, challenge your teen with ADHD to use social media ethically in these ways.

Teens at a bowling alley trying to balance school with a social life
Group of teenage friends using smartphone in a bowling alley

Many parents know little about what goes on beyond the electronic curtain of their teen’s smartphone. You may realize that Facebook and Twitter are as obsolete as the telegraph to teens now, and that Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok rule, but you may not know why. It’s about privacy. For parents, privacy means keeping one’s online business and identity to oneself. For teens, it means keeping whatever they put into cyberspace available to friends and followers, and away from prying adult eyes.

For teens with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD), social media is where impulsive thinking can lead to impulsive action. As apps have evolved, the time lag from thought to post has shortened. For ADHD kids, acting before thinking is the norm for pretty much everything, but mindlessness in social media can end badly.

Though users could always limit access to Facebook and Twitter, both are geared toward openness. In contrast, Snapchat’s schtick is privacy, stealth, and impermanence. Photos, videos, and messages sent through this app disappear after a specified amount of time (1 to 10 seconds) and can be viewed only once. By the app’s design, one moment of bad judgment is supposed to exist for one moment. That’s why Snapchat is known among parents as the “nude-sending app.”

Teens may describe it to their parents only as a communication tool, but those interviewed for our forthcoming book series, Consent-Based Sex Education, universally agreed that at least 80 percent of their high school peers regularly exchange explicit pictures via Snapchat.

Snaps are supposed to disappear, but teens know that they can be preserved as screen shots. While the app has been modified to detect and report that back to the sender, counter-apps now exist to thwart this feature. Thus, there remains significant risk of exposure (literally).

[Hooked on Social Media? How to Break the Habit]

New Platforms for Maintaining Teen Privacy

Teen privacy is also the point of “Finstagram,” short for “Fake Instagram.” Finstas exist because today’s teens, especially girls, have learned the lesson of the digital footprint: Be careful what you put out there, lest it be seen by your parents, employer, or future college. Rather than limit their posting, however, many teens now keep at least two (and often three) Instagrams going. Their public Instagram (called a “Rinsta,” for Real Instagram) might have several hundred followers, and feature one’s best material from family, school, dating life, and so on.

In contrast, what I call the “first” Finstagram is available only by invitation, and is typically well under parental radar. It is the solemn duty of Finsta followers, usually under a hundred per account, to keep private whatever is posted, which typically includes angst-ridden accounts of a teen’s struggle with anxiety, ADHD, sexuality, and party life.

Many teens also have a second Finsta, which may include nude or semi-nude photos of them. This Finsta is open only to the closest friends, whose duty it is to share similar content, to make affirming comments, and to not share anything outside the group without the poster’s consent.

Helping Young Women with Body Image

There is a good and a bad side here. This will surprise parents, but aside from obvious concerns as to how well Finsta followers and Snapchat friends execute their ethical duty to one another, these teens seem to be on to something. We’ve long lamented that teens, especially young women, struggle with body-negative images they see in fashion media and pornography, as well as mainstream Instagram. In the Finsta and Snapchat world, teens can instead give each other supportive comments about body image. They can see themselves as “all in it together,” rather than comparing themselves to models.

Now for the bad side. Any good that Finsta and Snapchat might do in this regard relies on how mindful a teen is in selecting the members and posts. While any teen may go off the rails of good judgment, those with ADHD are especially prone to do so. One of my eighth-graders exchanged semi-nudes with a guy she liked. He took screenshots and kept them. When they broke up, his new girlfriend began threatening my client with exposing her nudes to keep her away from the boy. In another case, a high school senior set up a second-level Finsta, posted some explicit but, by her account, tasteful shots. Later, she added a girl she had not fully vetted, and within a day or two, that girl began trash-talking my client, telling her non-Finsta friends how “scandalous” my client was. This hurt and embarrassed my client, but she unfriended the girl (in real life and online), and continued to enjoy her Finsta.

[Free Download: An “Ethics Manual” for Your Teen’s Electronics]

Talk About Online Ethics

Trying to bar or limit exposure to these platforms seems sensible, but as we found out in Consent-Based Sex Education, where teen sexuality is concerned, prohibition tends to turn out poorly. We instead encourage parents to begin a social media ethical-use dialogue with their children, whenever they introduce new technology, and to continue that dialogue for as long as the children live at home. Parents of kids with ADHD have an additional challenge. Not only must these teens understand the social media guidelines set forth, they must, at the critical moment of choice, act on them.

For kids with ADHD, that dialogue must be a regular occurrence, because there will be learning-drift. Keep frustration in check, and humor and positivity flowing. My son has Snapchat, and I joke with him about the exchange of nudes in his school, not in a shaming way, just to let him know I’m in on the Snapchat vibe. He knows that I don’t think it’s a good idea to request or post that material, but we don’t discuss it as being apocalyptic. Not to be made fun of, but funny nonetheless.

The real “deadly” sin in social media exchange is violating anyone’s consent. As I discuss in I Always Want to Be Where I’m Not, young adults with ADHD should be held to especially high standards in human interplay. In the case of Finsta and Snapchat, your discussion can acknowledge the foolishness of sending explicit images, but it should emphasize the importance of never pressuring anyone to do so. The best way to improve conduct and ethics on social media is to remind your teen of the harm one can do to others, and let your teen think about the harm one can do to one’s self.

[Read This: How to Protect Your Child from Cyberbullying]

Six Parenting Strategies for Social Media

  • Don’t panic. Overreacting leads to mistakes, especially when parenting ADHD kids who tend, as a matter of neurology, to overreact too.
  • Understand that young people have a different view than adults of privacy, over-sharing, online life, and nudity, and that isn’t going to change. Challenge thinking through kindness and dialogue, not judgment and preaching.
  • Be age-appropriate. Younger teens need greater oversight on all social media, but as they pass 15, tight restrictions only invite sneaking.
  • Teach and act with mindfulness as a daily challenge to ADHD. Where social media is concerned, ask kids to pause before posting, and think, “What am I doing, what do I mean to do, and why is this important?”
  • Ask your child to consider the yoga principals of communication before posting: “Is it true, is it kind, is it necessary?”
  • Challenge kids when they put themselves in unwise situations. Deliver serious consequences when they act unethically toward others. For teens with ADHD, it’s important to learn to act with empathy and excellence in behavior.