Social Media Messes

Should I Tattle On My Kids' Friends?

Where do you draw the line when it’s time to speak up?

by Anonymous
Happy young friends dancing together on street at night
Klaus Vedfelt/DigitalVision/Getty Images

Remember growing up in the days before cell phones? It was a wonderful time when nobody could record us, nor did we share details of our lives on social media. My friends and I say (way too often) how glad we are that there weren’t cell phones in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

And now as parents, we have no real idea how to handle teens with cell phones and multiple social media accounts. If you can navigate this phenomenon flawlessly, please share how you are doing it.

The thing is, my kids and I are close. They tell and show me a lot of things. Sometimes they come to me for advice, and sometimes, they just need to vent. More than once, that venting has consisted of showing me things their friends are doing via their Snapchat, Instagram, or TikTok. And that has put me in a challenging situation countless times.

I’m aware I’m seeing something not meant for a parent's eyes. My kids (without asking me for it) are looking for some guidance. They may be worried about their friend, confused about why they are posting things that could get them in trouble, or feel mad about how the person is acting. I can tell they are looking for guidance on what to do because why else would they show me the evidence?

My teenagers aren’t perfect, and they have broken plenty of rules themselves. Also, I need to clarify this isn’t something they do a lot. Often they don’t even tattle on each other — especially when they should; I consider that when they show me something. Because I know my kids and if they are showing me something about their friends online, it’s because they’re worried or have questions.

My knee-jerk reaction is to confront their friend’s parents, but I’m not sure if it’s the right decision. Here’s why: My kids trust me, which is something I value very much. And they make it clear every time that what they are showing me has to stay between us, because they don’t want to betray their friends but clearly need to talk about it. I want them to continue to come to me with anything, and I never want them to keep things from me because they feel like I’m going to run and tell someone or I will judge their friends.

On the other hand, if teenagers post things that are a danger to themselves and others, they need to know they are affecting many people. I know if it was my kid (and it has been before), I want to know if they were doing something illegal or harmful. Parents knowing could potentially do a lot of damage control.

But teenagers are savvy when it comes to their phones. There are countless ways to hide their social media lives from their parents. So, after struggling quite a few times about what to do in this situation, I’ve decided the best thing to do is use my discretion. If it’s something that could be harmful to the child or someone else, I’ll speak up. If it’s something that could get their parents in a lot of trouble, I’ll speak up. And when it comes to dealing with my kids around this, I’ll speak up. I tell them I am not judging them or their friends and I will never treat them differently, but it’s my responsibility to share the information if I think something really bad can happen. So far, this has worked, and my children still tell me lots of stuff.

As far as confronting the parents, I always let them know I am neither judging them nor their kids and that my kids aren’t perfect and have messed up, too. Coming at a parent and acting like you are getting off on letting them know their kids have done something is never a good idea. It’s happened to me a few times, and I hated it.

The way I see it, if teens post certain things, it’s because they want someone to know. I can’t be the only parent whose kids come to them with this stuff. Honestly, there should be a support group for it.