Social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter, have become the preferred method of communication for all age groups. But while today’s teens and ’tweens may be more media savvy than previous generations, their lack of maturity and life experience can quickly get them into trouble with these new social venues. Parents have a responsibility to ensure their child’s online safety. These tips, provided by the American Academy of Pediatrics and The Parenting Center at Children’s Hospital, will help parents stay in control of their children’s ever-expanding digital world.
It is imperative that parents understand the social media platforms their children use. If you don’t have one already, set up a profile for yourself and "friend” your kids. See who they are interacting with and what they are discussing. Periodically check their social networking profiles for inappropriate content, friends, messages and images. Be transparent and let your kids know what you are doing.
Set clear rules and guidelines for your child’s social media use, and let them know that their use of technology is a privilege. Ensure they set the highest privacy settings on social media sites, and keep the computer in a public part of your home, such as the family room or kitchen, so that you can monitor them. Set times when social media and Internet use is allowed, and restrict access after bedtime. Also, charge mobile devices and laptops in a set, public part of your home so that it will be easy to monitor the devices.
Age limits for social media
If you think your child is too young to understand what a sexual predator is and how they might be at risk, then he’s too young for social networking. You have to be willing and able to talk about sexuality and what dangers you might be inviting into your home if you allow your child access to chat rooms, bulletin boards and social networking. If adults are not able to talk about sex with teens, then how do we expect teens to be comfortable reporting that someone is an online danger?
Responsible use of social networking means no gossiping, spreading rumors, bullying or damaging someone’s reputation. Let children know there are potential consequences for this kind of behavior, ranging from minor punishment to legal action. Warn your child that if they feel threatened by someone or uncomfortable because of something online, they should tell an adult because they could end up preventing themselves or someone else from becoming a victim.
Discuss potential pitfalls
For all ages, emphasize that everything sent over the Internet or a cell phone can be shared with the entire world, so it is important they use good judgment in posting/sending messages and pictures. A simplistic rule like: "Do not disclose personal information online” is also not enough. Remember that once information is posted online, it can’t be taken back. Even if you delete the information from a site, older versions exist on other people’s computers.
Help your child choose positive networks and groups to participate in online. Being indiscriminate in who is in your network increases the risk of giving an unknown person access. Your child should know the people in his or her friend group in real life. Many more people could see your information than you intend, including teachers, employers, the police, the college they might want to apply to next year, the job they might want to apply for in five years — and strangers, some of whom could be dangerous.
Technology is part of our lives, and while it’s important to understand the dangers to your kids and how you can lessen the risks, it’s unrealistic to ban access altogether. Connecting with friends online is the whole point of social networking. It’s a great way for teens to keep in touch, and your supervision and involvement can insure they learn how to do so in a safe way.