Are you constantly hearing reference to Snapchat, YouTube, Instagram and lots of other social networks from your child and their friends? It’s likely the answer is yes! If your child is active on any of these platforms, then they are engaged in what is termed social networking.
Today’s kids embrace social media and technology, often, as their primary means of communication and entertainment. So, what can you do to ensure that your child stays safe when they are using social networking apps and/or platforms?
Teach the “Grandma Rule”. As communication via social media becomes ingrained in our culture, children need to know social networking etiquette. A good rule is to only share or leave comments that you would feel comfortable with granny seeing or reading. If you hesitate or question how grandma would react, then you probably should not be posting. This concept helps kids define what behaviours are acceptable. Also, remind children that nothing is really private online, everything has the possibility of being shared.
Begin an ongoing conversation about the dangers on social media. Starting early, empower kids with information so they can avoid common digital pitfalls. Be honest and upfront about the problems that cyberbullying, sexting, online predators, oversharing, and identity theft pose to their mental and physical well being today and tomorrow. Yes, there are long term consequences for poor online behaviour that can affect them for years to come. By keeping them informed and listening to their concerns, we can help children navigate the social media landscape safely. As an added bonus, kids are more likely to alert us to any problems they encounter.
Be in the know. Communication is key, because it is estimated that 70 percent of our teens actually take measures to hide their online activity from adults. These behaviours range anywhere from dimming screens, closing windows, or creating dummy social media accounts. It is important that we stay informed about trends, new social media hangouts, and what sites our kids frequent. Ask a child to friend you online and check their activity frequently.
Let them know it’s okay to “say no” to sexting. Sexting involves much more than sending a racy selfie to someone. Teens who sext can be emotionally hurt, bullied, and targeted by sexual predators. Even with the lurking threats, sexting is now frequently perceived as a safe alternative to sex and a normal part of adolescent development. Children need to know that they can decline a sext request. If a person truly cares about them, they will respect the decision to say no.
Help children and teens set their privacy settings and follow recommended age guidelines. Social media and the world of technology is constantly evolving, requiring sites to update their privacy settings and terms of agreements regularly. Unfortunately, this can create gaps in our child’s privacy which leaves them vulnerable. Avoid this by making sure our children meet the minimum age requirements and they have enabled secure settings. We want to ensure they aren’t accidentally sharing personal information, addresses, locations frequented, schedules, and contact information. In addition, encourage them to choose usernames and avatars that don’t give away their age or location.
Limit screen time. It’s no secret that our kids love their devices and social media. Designate certain places in the home as technology free zones to keep devices out of bedrooms, bathrooms, and away from the dinner table. We also need to provide opportunities for our children that don’t require an internet connection. Encourage new hobbies like sports or gardening to provide respite from the constant connectivity and notifications that disrupt a child’s day.
These tips are a guide to get you started on the road to having regular conversations with your child about the importance of staying safe online!