As a parent and an educator, this topic is near and dear to my heart. Every week that passes, the social media landscape changes, and keeping up with it can be a nightmare. I ask that if you find value in this article please share with others so that we may spread the word about keeping our children safe online.
If you’re a parent, you have to keep up with it. You have to be “savvy” enough to know what social networks your kids are using. You can’t use the excuse “I don’t understand this stuff!” (for example: Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Vine, Google+, Ask.fm, and Tumblr) <– If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s time to start doing some research. You don’t have to be an expert, but you should know how these networks operate. These are the platforms your teenagers or soon to be teenagers are probably using right now.
Here is some advice to get you started on educating yourself and your children on how to use social media safely:
1. Teach your child about respect. Respecting themselves and respecting others. If you stop them from being on Twitter or Facebook they’ll just move to WhatsApp or Instagram or SnapChat or Google+ or … you get the point. Give them the skills to make good decisions first and foremost.
2. Don’t use social media to humiliate your child. It may be a temporary fix to get your child to stop making poor decisions but the potential long term ramifications definitely outweigh the short term.
3. Teach your child that whatever they put online is permanent (this includes texting!) Private is not always private. The photo they post online is not owned by them anymore. It’s owned by Facebook, Instagram, and Google, etc… and they can do what they want with it (so can that bully who happens to be a friend of a friend on Facebook which gives them access to certain photos your child posts).
4. Some day your kids may apply to a high school or college or submit a resume for their dream job and I can assure you they will most likely be researched online. Ask yourself, what will their impression of my child be when their done? Therefore, teach them to also share their accomplishments like academic awards, sports awards, volunteering, community events, school club activities etc. online when they are involved in them.
5. Lead by example. Practice what you preach if you want them to navigate their digital life safely.
6. Explain to your child that communicating verbally is completely different than communicating online. If you happen to say something verbally that you later regret you can fix this over time. If you happen to post something online that you later regret that content may never disappear and you may never be able to fix it.
7. Tell your child to never take seductive photos and text them to his/her “boyfriend” or “girlfriend”. It’s incredibly risky and foolish because at some point his/her boyfriend/girlfriend probably won’t be the only person to see those photos. ‘Sexting’ should be a subject discussed before any smartphone is purchased. All this applies to pictures of under-age drinking, doing drugs, or any other illegal activity!
Take a look at these examples:
1. A student at West Rowan High School in Mt. Ulla was arrested and suspended from school earlier this week for posting a fully nude photo of a local 15-year-old high school…The victim’s photo had originally been sent to her boyfriend in confidence, but leaked to this boy, which then made it available on Instagram… CBS News
2. Authorities say this trio opened several accounts on Instagram, and before those accounts were shut down, they had posted more than 50 photos of nude and partially clothed girls on social media for all the world to see…concerned about the photos they had come across. Police say the victims in the case willfully took the pictures, but did not know they were being used for this purpose. My Fox DC
8. Be present and aware of what your children are doing online. Don’t give your tween a laptop/iPad/iPod and let them go to their room for the night if you don’t plan on keeping an eye on them. Know what apps they have. Know their password to these devices. You have to find a balance between trusting your child and parenting. If you don’t give them some space they’ll never learn to make good decisions (even if that means making a mistake here and there) and if you’re completely oblivious to their online activities you’re making it far too easy for them to potentially make an unrepairable mistake.
9. Teach your child not to interact/follow people they don’t know in person (exceptions: sports stars, celebrities, etc.. who are positive role models). Take a close look at this video below as to why they shouldn’t meet people online.
10. Review the privacy settings of each app with your child. You’ll probably want to make sure that they’re not sharing their current location. Watch this video to see why.
11. Start this journey into social media by making your teenager responsible for their hardware as well. Paying for their own smartphone and monthly bill will quickly teach a teen responsibility and accountability. No work, no money, no phone. It’s how the real world works. [As a parent, I have a $10 pay-as-you-go phone as a back-up in case a teenager hasn’t pay a bill.] Too young to work? Then it’s the parents device and all time-limits, usage rules, passwords are completely dictated by the parent (contributed by Dorein Morin-van Dam)
12. Make sure your child knows to come to you with a problem right when it occurs, so you can help fix it. Things can get out of hand quickly online, as pictures, texts and posts can go viral within hours! Whether something is happening on their accounts, or an a friends’ account they need to know to report it to you. Let them know coming to you is their only option and that you will always listen.
13. Trust goes as far as they trust their friends! ‘Private’ or “Protected’ accounts give teens a false sense of security, since those ‘trusted friends’ might post pictures of you, tag you, or leave accounts open and accessible to parents or worse, peers. This is where ‘Don’t say ANYTHING you wouldn’t say out loud’ applies most!
What if your child asks you if they can get a Facebook, Twitter, Google, Instagram, etc… account?
Don’t start with NO! You want to start this journey with them knowing you’re there for them. That doesn’t mean you have to say yes either but hear them out first. Start with questions like these:
1. Why do you want a Facebook account? They’ll probably answer with something like “Because ALL my friends have one”.
2. Which of your friends are on Facebook? Hopefully they tell you. If not maybe they’re not ready to be on social media.
3. Are these the only people you would be friends with on Facebook? This might be a good time to talk about only interacting with people they know in real life.
4. What do you know about Facebook? They may say something like “You talk to friends and share photos”.
5. What kind of photos would you be sharing? My guess is they’ll say something like “I don’t know. Me and my friends.” This is a great time to talk about what types of photos are appropriate to share online and why.
After you’ve had this conversation with your child you need to make a decision as to whether they’re ready for social media or not. If you’re on the fence about letting them you can always say “Yes, but under one condition. You have to share your password with me. If you’re being honest about why you want to be on Facebook then you have nothing to hide from me”. You can also tell them you’ll only use the password if you feel like they’re hiding something from you or not using the network responsibly. A written agreement between you and your teen might serve as a reminder of rules that are not to be broken and consequences that will happen if they are. Refer back to it often and review the rules when appropriate.
Apps/websites that you need to be monitoring if your teens/tweens are using them:
Remember it’s not necessarily about the technology. It’s more about how the technology is being used. However, some of these apps/websites encourage risky behavior.
1. Tinder – This app lets your kid “like” people who are as close as 1 mile from their location. If the other person “likes” your child back then they’ll be able to chat and give their location. This app is known for “hook ups”.
3. Whisper -This website allows users to post “secrets” and photos anonymously. It also allows whispering to other users anonymously as well. Here is their tagline: “Express Yourself – Share Secrets – Meet New People.”
4. SnapChat – The app that supposedly allows users to send a photo that will disappear “forever” after 30 seconds. The problem is that it’s easy to take a screenshot, which makes that statement ridiculously untrue.
5. Burn Note – Similar to SnapChat, this app’s number one priority is privacy, which teens are drawn to, but makes bullying, sexting, etc.. easier to participate in.
6. Let’s Date – Similar to Tinder, this app starts you off as anonymous to all but once you tell other users “let’s date” and once reciprocated you’re no longer anonymous to them.
7. Kik Messenger – I think I will let this next quote sum up this app:
If you grab every new app out there that you hear the kids & teenagers like, then you probably have KIK, an app extremely popular among the young crowd. While the messenger app is simple and often fun to use, with meme-making features and the ability to add videos and images to chats, it’s also full of random sex-spammers. AdLand.TV
8. WhatsApp – Recently purchased by Facebook. This app allows users to chat, send messages, send photos, join groups, etc…
9. Slingshot -Teens love this app because in order for you to view a video or photo another user sends you have to send them one as well. Your kid can easily be found by random people on this app.
10. Chatroulette – A website that matches you randomly with another user so that you can video chat with them. According to a poll – 1 in 8 spins yielded someone apparently naked, exposing themselves or engaging in a sexual act.
Parents should keep all their children off the site because it’s much too dangerous for children. It’s a predator’s paradise. This is one of the worst faces of the Internet that I’ve seen. It’s disconnecting human relationships rather than connecting them. –Dr. Keith Ablow
There is a new “it” app that your child will be downloading all the time. It’s extremely important to teach them about making good decisions and the consequences that come with making bad ones. Just because they might be “anonymous” on said social network doesn’t excuse them from being a good person who is respectful of others.
Here are some great books for further reading:
“In seconds, parents can master the techniques and words for engaging their teens and pre-teens in the important must-have conversations about social media. Parental controls and filters last only so long with kids and before they know it parents NEED to be openly talking to their teens about social media, despite the embarrassing, worrisome, confrontational, or tricky topics that arise from social networking.”
“You Posted What!? offers strategies, action plans, and online resources to help your teen use the Internet and social media to gain an advantage in college and future employment. Our digital profiles can be an asset, liability or both. The book helps parents understand the growing influence of social media profiles and how this huge treasure trove of data is used by colleges, recruiters and financial institutions to make important decisions about teens without their knowledge. The author provides guidance on how to build a solid positive digital profile that can be used to attract the attention of college recruiters and employers.”
Here are some thoughts from social media veterans:
Jeff Howell – “Your online brand can be everything. What you post online will follow you forever so be cautious of what you share. Just as you must be aware of who you physically interact with offline, you must be aware of who you interact with online. However, you do not have the advantage of physical awareness. Anyone can hide who they are online if they want to. Be careful who you trust and ensure that your accounts are accessible by an adult you trust in case there is an issue.”
Daniel Hebert -“I’m not a parent, but I’ve seen a lot of this stuff happen. Parents posting embarrassing stuff about their kids online. Remember this – as soon as one, single thing is posted about your kids, your child suddenly has a personal brand online, long before they can even use social networks or comprehend the idea of personal branding. That’s something that’s completely new to kids and parents these days. I’m young, but I wasn’t born in the personal branding era. Anyone that’s born post 2005 is…”
Dorien Morin-van Dam – “Re: protected accounts. I tell kids they are as safe as they trust their closest friends. Meaning; kids leave their Instagram and Twitter open in phones. It gives them a false sense of security.
Also; social media CAN be used for good branding – volunteer work, awards, projects etc can help them get into college or an internship.”
Sarah Arrow – “If you wouldn’t show the photo to me, your mother, then dont post it on Facebook / instagram / anywhere else…”
1. Parent’s Guide To Internet Safety (FBI.gov)
2. How to teach your children social media etiquette (DailyNews)
3. Keeping your E-Image clean (Monster.com)
4. The Dark Side of Social Media (Randy Bowden)
I have to give a huge thank you to Dorein Morin-van Dam for helping me put this article together. She added a lot of great details and insight that helped me immensely!