There are lots of good reasons why adults are warned against befriending teenagers who are not family, even when their motives are honourable especially on social media.

One of the reasons is that because teens are impressionable, and not as worldly and experienced as adults; it is possible for improper feelings to develop into a relationship that is totally unacceptable. Such a relationship is not one between equals – when you consider age, maturity, and life experience – and can only be compared to a relationship between one who is older and more experienced, taking advantage of the other who is younger, naive, and highly impressionable.

But could there really be any benefit in a teen-adult friendship carried on within proper bounds, even on social media?

Though many teachers and coaches are advised against maintaining a relationship with their students outside of class, and limit online contact to group emails where general team or class announcements are discussed.

A study by researchers at Drexel University, and published on proposes that schools should review their social media policies and allow for positive interactions between teachers, administrators and their students. They found that in many cases, interactions between adults and teens in this context can be opportunities to help them develop proper social media behaviour.

The findings were based on surveys and interviews with students in two U.S. public high schools — one with a policy that strictly limits social media interaction between teachers and students, and one with a policy where social media interaction is publicly embraced.

They found that most teen-adult interactions among the participants of the study fell into three categories:

  • Building a communal sense of connection outside the classroom;
  • Finding information — questions about assignments or how to solve problems;
  • Supporting the development of online skills — like learning to censor social media posts out of consideration for who may see them.

What the researchers realised from their conversations with the students was that these relationships help in the students’ maturation process not only by helping teens to exhibit better behaviour, but also getting the teens to think before they post.

As one participant in the study said:

All the teachers and students

[in my school] follow each other. I use that as a reason to censor my tweets. I think “how would [the principal] feel if he saw that?” So I should really think before I post.

So, the conclusion is that adding adults – teachers, coaches, tutors, and parents –  to a teen’s social media environment has a great impact in shifting their online behaviour, and their understanding of what is proper and what is not.