Teaching Kids and Teenagers to Be Smart About Social Media
Written by Petro Fourie – MA(SW)
Most teens use some form of social media and have a profile on a social networking site. Many visit these sites every day.
There are plenty of good things about social media — but also many risks and things kids and teens should avoid.
They don’t always make good choices when they post something to a site, and this can lead to problems.
So it’s important to talk with your kids about how to use social media wisely.
What’s Good About Social Media
Social media can help kids:
- To stay connected with friends and family
- Kids can volunteer or get involved with a campaign, non-profit, or charity
- Kids can enhance their creativity by sharing ideas, music, and art
- They meet and interact with others who share similar interests
- The kids can communicate with educators and fellow students
What’s Bad About Social Media
- Though social media have a lot of positive uses, there is unfortunately also the other side of social media, the side that parents must take note of. On social media is where cyber bullying is a reality and also a place where children can get knowingly or unknowingly involved in questionable activities.
- Without meaning to, kids can share more online than they should.
- post photos of themselves online or use their real names on their profiles
- reveal their birthdates and interests
- post their school name and the town where they live
This can make them easy targets for online predators and others who might mean them harm.
In fact, many teens say they have:
- been contacted online by someone they didn’t know in a way that made them feel scared or uncomfortable
- received online advertising that was inappropriate for their age
- lied about their age to get access to websites
There are certain concerns around the use of social media by kids and teenagers.
- Besides problems like cyberbullying and online predators, kids also can face the possibility of a physical encounter with the wrong person. Many newer apps automatically reveal the poster’s location when they’re used. This can tell anyone exactly where to find the person using the app.
- And photos, videos, and comments made online usually can’t be taken back once they’re posted. Even when a teen thinks something has been deleted, it can be impossible to completely erase it from the Internet.
- Posting an inappropriate photo can damage a reputation and cause problems years later — such as when a potential employer or college admissions officer does a background check. And sending a mean-spirited text, even as a joke, can be very hurtful to someone else and even taken as a threat.
- Spending too much time on social media can be a downer too. Seeing how many “friends” others have and the pictures of them having fun can make kids feel bad about themselves or like they don’t measure up to their peers.
What Can Parents Do?
- It’s important to be aware of what your kids do online. But snooping can alienate them and damage the trust you’ve built together. The key is to stay involved in a way that makes your kids understand that you respect their privacy but want to make sure they’re safe.
Learn your kids that it’s important to:
- Be nice. Mean behaviour is not OK. Make it clear that you expect your kids to treat others with respect, and to never post hurtful or embarrassing messages. And ask them to always tell you about any harassing or bullying messages that others post.
- Think twice before hitting “enter.” Remind teens that what they post can be used against them. For example, letting the world know that you’re off on vacation or posting your home address gives would-be robbers a chance to strike. Teens also should avoid posting specific locations of parties or events, as well as phone numbers.
- Follow the “WWGS?” (What Would Grandma Say?) rule. Teach kids not to share anything on social media that they wouldn’t want their teachers, college admissions officers, future bosses — and yes, grandma — to see.
- Use privacy settings. Privacy settings are important. Go through them together to make sure your kids understand each one. Also, explain that passwords are there to protect them against things like identity theft. They should never share them with anyone, even a boyfriend, girlfriend, or best friend.
- Don’t “friend” strangers. “If you don’t know them, don’t friend them.” This is a plain, simple — and safe — rule of thumb. Cyber safety guidelines for parents.
Make it a family rule to:
- Never give out identifying information – home address, school name, or telephone number – in a public message such as chat or bulletin boards, and be sure you’re dealing with someone that both you and your child know and trust before giving it out privately to someone.
- Think carefully before revealing any personal information such as age, marital status or financial information.
- Consider using a pseudonym or unlisting your child’s name if your service allows it.
- Get to know the services your child uses. If you don’t know how to log on, get your child to show you. Find out what types of information it offers and whether there are ways for parents to block objectionable material.
- Never allow a child to arrange a face-to-face meeting with another computer user without parental permission. If a meeting is arranged, make the first one in a public spot, and be sure to accompany your child.
- Never respond to messages or bulletin board items that are suggestive, obscene, belligerent, threatening, or make you feel uncomfortable. Encourage your children to tell you if they encounter such messages. If you or your child receives a message that is harassing, of a sexual nature or threatening, forward a copy of the message to your service provider and ask for their assistance. We also have help pages listed at the bottom of this article that you can contact.
- If you become aware of the transmission, use, or viewing of child pornography while online, report this immediately to the Department of Internal Affairs by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org. You should also notify your service provider.
- Remember that people online may not be who they seem. Because you can’t see or even hear the person it would be easy for someone to misrepresent him or herself. Thus, someone indicating that ‘she’ is a ‘12-year-old girl’ could in reality be a 40-year-old man.
- Remember that everything you read online may not be true. Any offer that’s too good to be true probably is. Be very careful about any offers that involve your coming to a meeting or having someone visit your house.
- Set reasonable rules and guidelines for computer use by your children (see below.) Discuss these rules and post them near the computer as a reminder.
- Remember to monitor their compliance with these rules, especially when it comes to the amount of time your children spend on the computer.
- A child or teenager’s excessive use of online services or bulletin boards, especially late at night, may be a clue that there is a problem. Remember that personal computers and online services should not be used as electronic babysitters.
- Consider keeping the computer in a family room rather than the child’s bedroom. Get to know their ‘online friends’ just as you get to know all of their other friends.
Make a contract on the rules for cyber safety
- Sit down with your kids and make a contract on what will be allowed and not allowed during their time on social media. Suggestions for such a contract include the following guidelines’
- I will not give out personal information such as my address, telephone number, parents’ work address/telephone number, or the name and location of my school without my parents’ permission.
- I will tell my parents right away if I come across any information that makes me feel uncomfortable.
- I will never agree to get together with someone I ‘meet’ online without first checking with my parents.
- If my parents agree to the meeting, I will be sure that it is in a public place and bring one of my parents along.
- I will never send a person my picture or anything else without first checking with my parents.
- I will not respond to any messages that are mean or in any way make me feel uncomfortable. It is not my fault if I get a message like that. If I do, I will tell my parents right away.
- I will talk with my parents so that we can set up rules for going online. We will decide upon the time of day that I can be online, the length of time I can be online, and the appropriate areas for me to visit. I will not access other areas or break these rules without their permission
- In turn, parents agree to respect teens’ privacy while making an effort to be part of the social media world. This means you can “friend” and observe them, but don’t post embarrassing comments or rants about messy rooms.
- Parents also can help keep kids grounded in the real world by putting limits on media use. Keep computers in public areas in the house, avoid laptops and smartphones in bedrooms, and set some rules on the use of technology (such as no devices at the dinner table).
Parents be aware what is going on in your kids or teenagers word, do NOT presume you know what is going on!