Today’s youth is growing up in a world dominated by social media. Online social networks aren’t just a fad or passing fancy: they’ve completed redefined the nature of modern social interaction. While the platform may change (MySpace, anyone?), the message is clear: online social networks are here to stay.
But how do we guide children in the use of these social networks? This article will explore some ‘best practices’ for keeping your children safe online.
Regardless of the platform, social media is a fact of life. Today’s teens nearly all have smartphones and at least three-quarters of teens use at least one social media platform. With that in mind, it’s important to have some reasonable expectations.
Don’t expect your children to not have any social media presence. It’s unrealistic, impractical, and likely impossible to enforce. When it comes to children with divorced parents, this becomes even more significant. Imagine a situation where one parent decides social media is fine and the other forbids it! There’s no better way to breed discontent, anger, and frustration between parents and children.
That said, setting limits is part of great parenting. Some parents opt for (arguably) fairly intrusive rules, such as forbidding the use of personal electronics in the bedroom. Instead of that rather draconian approach, consider establishing rules for the common areas of the home. For example, no phone use during family meals is a great way to teach your children about reasonable limits.
Children, especially teens, may have difficulty understanding the impact of their actions online. You want to teach your children to be a good digital citizen. Put simply, a good digital citizen is someone who uses the Internet and social media responsibly.
Digital content is just as real as something you hold in your hand. Spoken words, in contrast, can be forgotten, misheard, or ignored. When it comes to social media, teach your children that their digital footprint — all the comments, posts, accounts, and so on — they leave on the Internet is forever. Once something is online, there’s no telling who has seen it or what records of it exist.
Examples can help with this. Rolling Stone published an article back in 2015 detailing 15 different examples of people ruining their lives because of social media posts. Granted, the examples they use are pretty extreme, but the lesson is there: anything you post online is available for the world to see. The more your children understand the potential impact that online posts can have, the better.
While your children should understand that nothing they post online is truly ever secret, there are ways to protect their privacy. Sit down with your children and show them the different privacy settings available on social media platforms.
As a general rule, no social media platform for a minor should ever be set to ‘public.’ You’ll want to help your children go through their accounts and set the privacy to as high as can be.
Social media can be a scary place. Cyber bullying, for example, is rapidly becoming one of the principal ways teens experience bullying. Your children may find it difficult to communicate these concerns to you. Remember to stress to your children that digital bullying is just as real as physical intimidation.
Cyberbullying aside, emphasize to your children that they should immediately tell you if they ever feel they are in danger. It’s a sad reality that predatory behavior exists online, especially with regards to youths. Your children should never feel ashamed or embarrassed that someone online is sending inappropriate messages.
In the end, the best way to educate your children on social media is to be honest. Tell them that, in today’s world, digital words are just as real as spoken ones. Stress that social media, just like any other place in the real world, has its own set of dangers. The more that you educate your children on becoming good digital citizens, the better equipped they will be moving forward.