Today’s teens and “tweens” are connected to one another, and to the world, via digital technology more than any previous generation. Social media (SM) venues like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat have surpassed e-mail as the preferred method of communication in all age groups.
While today’s tweens and teens may be more digitally savvy than their parents, their lack of maturity and life experience can quickly get them into trouble with these new social venues. Online predators, inappropriate photos and conversations, cyberbullying, who knows what new issues are cropping up all the time? For this reason, it is imperative that parents talk with their children of all ages about social media and monitor their online SM use to help them navigate this new online social world. Teachers also need to talk to their students about appropriate uses of technology.
How adults talk with kids and teens will vary slightly by age depending on the topic being discussed. These tips will help you start that journey with your family or in the classroom.
- Learn about these technologies first hand. There is simply no better way than to have a profile yourself. It will also enable parents to “friend” their children and monitor them online. Teachers should not “friend” their students on social media sites and many school districts have adopted social media policies.
- Let kids know 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 vary 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, Twitter and Snapchat. Ask daily how your family used those tools with questions such as: “What did you write on Facebook today?” “Any new chats recently?” “Anyone text you today?”
- Share a bit about your daily SM use as a way to facilitate daily conversation about your kids’ online habits.
- Get your kids talking about their SM lives if you can, just so you know what they are doing online.
- Keep the computer in a public 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 there.
- Talk with other parents about what their kids of similar ages are using for SM. 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 so, 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 look at your text log today together. I’d like to see who’s been texting you.”
- 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 sending messages and pictures and set privacy settings on social media sites appropriately.
- Discuss 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. (Sexting will be the subject of a future blog post.)
- 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 SM platform they are using. The more private, the less likely inappropriate material will be received by your child, or sent to their circle of acquaintances.
- Be aware of the ages of use for sites your tweens and older elementary school kids want to use, including game sites such as ‘Club Penguin’ and ‘Webkins.’ Many sites are for age 13 and older, and the sites for younger kids do require parental consent to use.
- Be sure you are where your kids are online: IM, Facebook, Snapchat, 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.
- Create a strategy for monitoring your kids’ online SM 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 may need to check.
- Consider formal monitoring systems to track 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.
- Set time limits for Internet and cell phone use. Learn the warning signs of trouble: skipping activities, meals and homework for SM, weight loss or gain, a drop in grades. If these issues are occurring 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 SM addiction. Contact your pediatrician for advice if any of these symptoms are occurring.
- Check chat logs, emails, files and social networking profiles for inappropriate content, friends, messages, and images periodically. Be transparent and let your kids know what you are doing.
For more resources for parents and digital tools for the classroom, go to commonsensemedia.org.
This article was originally posted on Dr. Todd Huffman’s website.