Social networking is on the rise. A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that 76% of teens use social media. And, that 91% of teens go online from a mobile device, at least occasionally. This level of online activity increases the risks of cyberbullying, sexting, and exposure to inappropriate content. As parents, we are bombarded with news story about how social media is creating all sorts of issues with our kids. If we read enough of these stories, it will make one feel the answer is to just say “No!” No to any and all social media for our kids. But, is that really the answer? Should we really shelter our kids from all social media? If we want our kids to become responsible digital citizens, doesn’t guiding kids through social media make more sense? After all, we don’t throw our kids into the pool or put them behind the driver’s wheel of a car without some basic understanding of safety. The key word here is guiding.
I love this definition of “guide” found in freedictionary.com
Guide: One who serves as a model for others, as in a course of conduct.
If we are to guide our kids as they enter the world of social media we need to:
- Be a positive role model by example.
- Understand the role social media plays in their lives.
- Build them up, not tear them down.
- Create a safe place for them to come when they are upset, discouraged, or fearful.
If we’ve created an atmosphere where our kids feel we are constantly watching their every move, our kids will feel we don’t trust them. There is a fine line between guiding with grace and creating an atmosphere of distrust in our homes.
So how do you monitor social media while keeping the bonds of communication and trust flowing in your family?
Have Family Guidelines
Parents need to actively discuss digital responsibility with their children from a young age. Conversations about screen time and activities online should be a natural part of the conversation in our homes. Having a Family Digital Media plan in place is also important. If your kids are old enough to be using the computer on their own, they are old enough to understand that there are family guidelines that everyone in the family must abide by. Remember your family is a team. Every member of that team is important. Team members support each other and don’t tear each other down. Make sure your kids know you are on their team by never tearing them down by what you post on social media. And make sure they show that same respect, love, and honor to their family and friends as well.
Walk Your Child Through the Privacy Settings
Check that the privacy settings for the Internet and Facebook are set to the levels your family has discussed and deemed appropriate for your child. Depending on which browser you are using, you can adjust the settings directly from the options tab and adjust levels around cookies, third party sites, and more. This not only protects the user, but also the computer, from the threat of viruses. Be sure to check Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and privacy settings for other social media platforms your child is using. Don’t log in to your child’s account and do this. Instead, go there with your child and teach them how to use the settings to keep their account safe. Your child should feel safe on every social media platform they use. Part of feeling safe is knowing how to handle situations involving abuse or porn should they arise. Let your kids know you are their advocate by making sure they understand the privacy settings along with what steps to take if they need to block or report someone.
Get To Know the Kind of Sites Your Child Likes
Our kids want to know we care and are invested in their lives. Talking to your kids is the best way to find out what sites they love. You don’t need to spy on your kids’ every online move, but it is important to be aware of the kinds of sites he is frequenting and the people he is associating with. You get to know the friends he’s hanging out with at school; his online friends shouldn’t be any different. This is where communication comes into play. Talk openly and often. Our kids want to talk with us. They just don’t want us to talk at them.
Use Filtering Software for Younger Children and Teens
I’m a big advocate of filtering for young kids and teaching your kids to self-monitor. Your child will one day be in college or in the work force. They may not have filtering programs available to help make choices for them. They need to be able to make good decisions. Net Nanny lets you monitor social media sites, block chats, filter content, and much more. This is a great program to use for younger kids. Covenant Eye has a filter option and an accountability program. A filter will block a site, while an accountability program will alert the user that a site has objectionable content. The user can elect to proceed to the site or not. A report of sites visited is sent to the accountability partner you elect to receive the report. It can be you or anyone else you choose. This is a great way to move a teen off filters and towards self-monitoring. The goal is that you are working towards self-monitoring.
Talk, Talk, Talk
It doesn’t matter who you are or how responsible your kids are, chances are your family will hit some turbulent times when it comes to kids and social media. Take a deep breath and know it’s okay. One of the biggest myths of parenting right now is the myth of “My kid is the only one who has ever failed online.” That’s just bull. Excuse my strong word choice, but I have to call it what it is. And, it’s just that . . . a lie that parents everywhere are falling for. And, in the process, we’re placing a burden on our kids they just can’t carry. So, if/when your kid makes a mistake, help them get back on track. Let them know you love them. Don’t place a “Scarlet Letter” on their chest. The world is a harsh enough place already. Home should always be their safe haven. Guide them back lovingly.
Now go be that positive role model. You’ve got this!