If you have tweens or teens in your home, chances are good they are part of social media. Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are the most popular social media sites, and 71 percent of teens have at least one profile set up. If you use social media yourself, you are probably aware of the pros and cons of these popular websites, and you want to be sure your kids stay as safe as possible when they are on Instagram, Twitter and the like.
With this in mind, let’s look at these plusses and minuses of these popular sites, as well as how to talk to your kids about social media safety in a way that will not make them completely roll their eyes and ignore you:
Social Media: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
One of the best things about social media is the way it can help your tweens and teens to stay connected with friends and family — for example, they can be “friends” with their grandparents on Facebook and easily share photos of their cool science projects. Unfortunately, kids can easily share more information about themselves than they should. Nine out of 10 teens post photos of themselves online and use their real names in their profiles, 8 out of 10 share their birthdays and interests, and 7 out of 10 post their cities, school names and other personal data. These actions may make kids easier targets for online predators. In fact, 17 percent of teens say they were contacted online by someone they didn’t know, and in a way that made them uncomfortable, and 30 percent admit they have seen advertising that was inappropriate for people their age. Posting too much personal info can also lead to your kids falling victim to identity theft. Criminals can scour social media pages looking for full names, birth dates and addresses of young people and then use this info to set up fake credit card accounts in their names. While there is no foolproof way to prevent identity theft, having extra protection and insurance from an identity theft protection service is always advisable.
Step One: Don’t Make Social Media Forbidden Fruit
The quickest way to make social media irresistible to your kids is to make it 100 percent off limits. Instead of banning social media from their lives, teach them how to use it in fun, safe and appropriate ways. For example, if your tweens are old enough to have a Facebook page, help them set up their accounts with all of the privacy settings in place, and make certain simple rules like they must use a fake name and never reveal personal info. In addition, make it a rule that your kids must be your “friend” on their social media accounts; promise them that you will not go on there to embarrass them, but to help keep them safe and keep tabs on anything that might steer them down the wrong path.
Step Two: Make Teens the Experts
A great way to encourage communication with your teens about troubling social media issues is to acknowledge that they are the experts, and ask them for advice and information. When teens feel like they are teaching mom about something, they will often let down any barriers and speak more freely. If you are concerned about “sexting,” ask your teenager to explain and use their explanation to get a sense of their personal thoughts on the matter and state your feelings on the subject.
Step Three: Remember Grandma
No matter how old your kids are, they need to learn that once something is posted on social media, it will stay on the internet forever. Regardless of whether they are friends or followers with Grandma on Facebook or Instagram, tell your kids to follow the “What would Grandma think?” rule, and never post anything that they would not be proud for their lovely Grandmother to see online. If they are not particularly close with Grandma, you can use a teacher they adore, the principal at school or anyone else they respect, as their moral compass for social media posts.
Social media talks are not a “one and done” type of conversation. You should continue to discuss these popular websites for as long as your kids are into them. By being aware of the dangers of social media and using age-appropriate tips to keep their online activity safe and appropriate, your tweens and teens will get the social media experiences they crave, but in a way that makes all of you feel comfortable and secure.