Today’s kids face a great deal of peer pressure to “fit in” and go along with the crowd. And that pressure doesn’t end with the school day. Many teens and tweens squeeze in time for social media in between soccer practice and homework, despite seemingly not having time to clean their rooms or take out the trash. Considering that most adolescents have cell phones these days, their exposure to social media is nearly constant. We can’t be with them 24/7/365 to always know what’s going on in their lives, but we shouldn’t let that deter us from trying to stay informed as parents.
Some parents may turn a blind eye to their children’s social media use, while others, fearing the worst, may attempt to prohibit their children from using social media altogether. However, neither of these approaches ensures that our children will become responsible digital citizens. Moreover, forbidding social media use can drive adolescents to hide their accounts from their parents.
So what can we do? As parents, here are a few things we need to do to help keep our children safe and teach them appropriate social media behavior.
Know the Popular Platforms
First, as tough as it may seem, it’s essential to be familiar with the various platforms our children use. An understanding of the popular platforms among teens and tweens can help us establish the most appropriate guidelines regarding their use. The best way to learn about the platforms can be to set up your own profile. Find out what information the platform collects and shares and how it is shared. Learn the privacy settings so that you can see the difference between a public and private profile.
Many platforms have rules regarding the age at which a person may set up an account. For several, that age is 13, but there are methods to circumvent this. Every child may be different based on their maturity level, so it is up to you to set the rules for your family regarding age appropriateness of social media.
Setting up Profiles Together
One guideline to enforce regardless of platform is that there are no secrets when it comes to social media. Start by setting up the profile together. This way, you know the username and password for the account. If they know you can check out their activity at any time, they’re less likely to engage in behaviors they wouldn’t want you to see.
When you set up the accounts, be sure to set everything to “private” whenever possible. Make sure your child only connects with people they know, and remind your child of the potential danger of communicating with those outside of their network.
Even after accounts are set up, continue to have conversations with your child about the benefits and dangers of social media. We must talk to our children about the potential consequences of their online behavior. Information shared on social media is permanent and can affect future opportunities. For better or worse, college admissions officers and even potential employers check out prospective candidates’ social media and online presence. If they are intentional in their social media use, their profile can serve to highlight their achievements and involvement in activities. Adolescents also need guidelines on what to do if someone crosses the line into hurtful, cruel, or inappropriate behavior. Talk with them about online predators and cyberbullying.
Stay up-to-date on the newest platforms and trends as they emerge. If you need to, you can always make changes and adapt your guidelines for social media use.
Be an Example
Remember that children will imitate what they see adults doing. It’s essential to consider your own online behaviors; just as you can monitor their online use, if you’ve connected with your child on social media, they’ll see your use as well. If you’re posting ten times a day, your child will see that as acceptable. Ensure your images, posts, and comments are setting a good example for your child.
As a parent, learning how to help your child successfully navigate social media can be tough. But just as we know, the internet can be a scary place; we also must realize that it has a lot to offer. Social media platforms can provide positive experiences when used appropriately. We must do what we can to allow our kids to connect with others and express themselves while still ensuring their safety.
Dr. Edward S. Thalheimer is the President and Founder of The Tutoring Franchise Corp. If you would like further information about how to help children who need educational assistance, please go to www.tutoringcenter.com.