Perhaps the single most thought in many parents’ minds about what to teach kids about social media usage is that social media is part of real life and therefore, has real life consequences. It’s easy to lose this grip on reality when we post to social media and maybe only few people “like” it or even see it, as far as we know. And therein lies the false sense of security.
I polled social media mamas and asked, “What is one thing you want to teach kids about social media?” The overwhelming consensus was that nothing is private and to take no one at face value. But there was some additional advice from parents of teens and pre-teens, that are good to think about before your little ones get there.
Restriction is one way of protecting our children from some of the dangers of the world. At the risk of entering the parenting advice zone, I’ll simply say that teaching our kids why something is not allowed, helps them understand the critical thinking and learn to do it themselves.
7 Essentials to Teach Kids About Social Media
1) NOTHING is private!
Once posted, it is there forever. It might appear that you can delete a post/tweet/account, but it’s simply not so. Snapchat has been the subject of the most recent trickery in this department. The platform allows friends to snap a picture or a short video and their friends can view it a limited number of times. They now have face-to-face chatting, too. Screen shots eternalize otherwise fleeting moments.
Likewise, an image or post can be shared with anyone, anywhere. Privacy on social media is kind of a misnomer.
2) Words can hurt
We all know that bullying is a big deal and social media gives kids people one more way to do it. But even aside from bullying on social media, there is a more subtle lesson and that is: words can hurt. So, teaching our kids to post with kindness is an important life lesson. I mean, don’t we all wish adults would learn this lesson, too?
3) Not the place for naiveté.
Gullible is the last thing you want your child to be online. Protecting the sacredness of childhood is one thing, and to each their own. Teaching kids to question the validity of online anything/everything is a good lesson, especially social media profiles.
People may not be who they say they are and may not look like the profile picture they posted. This is one dark use of social media that many adults even underestimate.
Family time idea? Watch Catfish together and discuss.
4) Friends Only
On that same note, a healthy amount of skepticism is great when it comes to friend requests, chats, and the like.
For grown professionals, social media networking can be an invaluable career tool. For kids and teens, talking to/befriending people on social media that they don’t know personally can be dangerous. If you monitor your kid or teenager’s social media, then you should probably scroll through their friends list. Not as the Big Bad Social Media Parent Police. Sorry for the cliche, but these are teachable moments, if you remain calm. Explain to them the red flags you see. Teach them how to be discerning.
5) Location Tracking Can Be Used Against You
Do all of your followers/friends need to know your exact location and who you are with? At the very least, be aware of location tracking, which is often the default setting on many mobile apps and devices. And then you have the option on many social media platforms to “check in” and that creates an entire post to say, “Hey, I am current in this spot!” Whether your kid is out or your kid is home, both can be used in unwanted, even criminal activity against them.
Help your kid think through the pros and cons of location tracking to help them discern if and when it is appropriate to use. (And maybe do a little research, yourself.)
6) No Such Thing as DELETE
Your profiles, your pictures, your words–all of these may stay floating around the internet for all eternity. Most apps and social media platforms will let you deactivate your account, but few of them let you delete them. Like I mentioned before, the power of a screenshot is mighty.
7)Boundaries Are Important
This last one is every bit as much for parents as it is for kids and teens. Many parents of teenagers wished they had set clear rules or better rules for when/where/how social media and internet-connected devices would be used. For example, one mom keeps all the chargers for all the devices. At a set time, all devices are deposited in her room for the evening.
Or another idea is to not allow devices in the bedroom. Teens like to hole up in their rooms, so if you want to see them and keep an eye on their usage, limit internet time to a common area. If you establish boundaries when your kid first begins using social media, it will be easier than trying to change the rules later on or for the next kid.
When it comes to social media and trusting the who and what that we find there, skepticism can be extremely healthy.
Raising kids in a social media world adds some challenges, particularly if you, the parent, aren’t up on your social media game. It’s worth it to learn the platforms, learn about privacy settings and security, and most importantly, teach your children some social media smarts.
It’s easy to feel a false sense of security on social media. No one is yelling “Stranger danger!” despite the potential dangers. But this isn’t meant to be a fear-mongering post–by teaching your kids about social media (and using common sense), they can enjoy it in safe ways.