Social Media Best Practices
Today’s teens and tweens are connected to one another, and to the world, through digital technology more than any previous generation. Recent data indicates that social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have exceeded e-mail as the favored communication method in all age groups. Although today’s tweens and teens may be more tech savvy than their parents, their lack of maturity and life experience can quickly get them into trouble with these new social platforms. That’s why it’s important for parents to speak with their children of all ages about social media and monitor their online social media use to help them navigate this new online social world. How parents talk with their kids and teens will differ slightly by age depending on the topic being discussed. Here are some helpful tips to help begin that expedition with your family.
Explore these technologies personally. There is simply no better way than to create a profile yourself. It will also allow you to “friend” your kids and track their activity online.
Make it clear that their use of technology is something you want and need to know about.
- For kids of all ages, ask daily: “Have you used the computer and the Internet today?”
- Technology use will differ by age. Tweens are likely to be using more instant messaging and texting, while teens use those technologies and also networking sites such as Facebook. (These tools often are referred to as social networking “platforms”.) Ask daily how your family used those tools with questions such as: “What did you write on Facebook today?” “Any new chats recently?” “Did anyone text you today?”
- Share a bit about your daily social media use as a way to promote daily conversation about your kids’ online habits.
- Get your kids talking about their social media lives if you can just so you know exactly what they are doing.
Keep the computer in a prominent part of your home, such as the family room or kitchen, so that you can check on what your kids are doing online and how much time they are spending.
Ask other parents what their kids of similar ages are using for social media. Ask your kids about those technologies as a starting point for discussion. If they are in the same peer group, there is a good chance they are all using the same platforms together. For example:
- For teens: “Mrs. Smith told me Jennifer uses Facebook. Is that something you’ve thought of doing? Do you already have a profile? If you do, I’d like to see it.”
- For tweens and older elementary school kids: “Are you planning on meeting up with kids on Club Penguin today? I’d love to see how that works.” Or, “Let’s check your text log today together. I’d like to see who’s been texting you.”
For all ages, explain 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 sending messages and pictures and set privacy settings on social media sites accordingly.
- Chat with kids of every age what “good judgment” means and the consequences of poor judgment, ranging from minor punishment to possible legal action in the case of “sexting” or bullying.
- Remember to make a point of discouraging kids from gossiping, spreading rumors, bullying or damaging someone’s reputation using texting or other tools.
- To keep kids safe, have your kids and teens show you where the privacy features are for every social media platform they are using. The more private, the less likely inappropriate material will be received by your child, or sent to their circle of friends.
- Be aware of the ages of use for sites your tweens and older elementary school kids want to use. Many sites are for age 13 and older, and the sites for younger kids do require parental consent to use.
Be present where your kids are online: IM, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Have a policy requiring that you and your child “friend” each other. This is one way of showing your child you are there, too, and will provide a check and balance system by having an adult within arm’s reach of their profile. This is important for kids of all ages, including teens.
Show your kids you know how to use what they are using, and are willing to learn what you may not know how to do.
Develop a strategy for monitoring your kids’ online social media use, and be sure you follow through. Some families may check once a week and others more sporadically. You may want to say, “Today I’ll be checking your computer and cell phone.” The older your kids are, the more often you should check.
Consider installing tracking systems to monitor your child’s email, chat, IM, and image content. Parental controls on your computer or from your Internet service provider, Google Desktop, or commercial programs are all reasonable alternatives.
Enforce time limits for Internet and cell phone use. Learn the warning signs of trouble: skipping activities, meals and homework for social media; weight loss or gain; a drop in grades. If these issues are transpiring due to your child being online when they should be eating, sleeping, participating in school or social activities, your child may have a problem with Internet or social media addiction. Contact your Pediatrician for advice if you notice these symptoms.
Monitor chat logs, emails, files and social networking profiles for inappropriate content, friends, messages, and images periodically. Be honest and let your kids know what you are doing.
Multitasking can be dangerous – even deadly. Be sure to emphasize to teens the importance of not texting, Facebooking, using the phone, listening to ear buds or earphones, or engaging in related distracting activities while driving. These forms of distracted driving are illegal in many states because they are so dangerous. And warn kids of all ages about using mobile devices while walking, biking, babysitting, or doing other things that require their complete attention.
The Conundrum of “Sexting”
“Sexting” refers to sending a text message with pictures of children or teens that are inappropriate, naked, or engaged in sex acts. Based on a recent survey, about 20% of teen boys and girls have sent such messages. The emotional pain it causes can be enormous for the child in the picture and also to the sender and receiver – often with legal implications. Parents must begin the difficult conversation about sexting before it becomes a problem and introduce the issue as soon as a child is old enough to have a cell phone. Here are some tips for how to start these discussions with your children:
- Speak to your kids, even if the issue hasn’t affected your community. “Have you heard of sexting?” “Tell me what you think it is.” For the initial part of the discussion, it is important to first learn what your child’s understanding is of the issue and then add to it an age appropriate explanation.
- Use relevant examples for your child’s age. For younger children with cell phones who do not yet know about sex, alert them that text messages should never contain pictures of people – kids or adults – without their clothes on, kissing or touching each other in ways that they’ve never seen before. For older children, use the term “sexting” and give more specifics about sex acts they may be aware of. For teens, be very specific that “sexting” often involves pictures of a sexual nature and is considered pornography.
- Ensure that kids of all ages understand that sexting is serious and considered a crime in many jurisdictions. In all communities, if they “sext”, there will be serious consequences, quite possibly involving the police, suspension from school, and notes on the sexter’s permanent record that could affect their chances of getting into college or getting a job.
- Experts have noted that peer pressure can play a major role in the sending of texts, with parties being a major contributing factor. Confiscating cell phones at gatherings of tweens and teens is one way to reduce this temptation.
- Watch headlines and the news for stories about “sexting” that illustrate the very real consequences for both senders and receivers of these images. “Have you seen this story?” “What did you think about it?” “What would you do if you were this child?” Practice ways they can reply if asked to participate in inappropriate texting.
- Urge school and town assemblies to educate parents, teachers and students.