I work in social media for my day job and I’m also a single mother of two teenagers. I have always made sure to befriend my kids on social networks. When they were younger I was more concerned about online predators trying to lure my young, impressionable kids. Now that they are older, there are other, more prevalent safety issues. I am no longer on every one of their social networks so I have to teach them how to venture into the social media world on their own. These are some of the social media safety tips I have taught my kids.
1. Know your boundaries and use your privacy settings.
When I was young, I thought being a good friend meant that I had to let everyone in. I thought unconditional love meant that I would have to allow someone to be close to me, even after they hurt me over and over again. Not having appropriate boundaries caused me great grief and pain over the years. With social media being such a prominent part of a kid’s life these days, boundaries are more important than ever. Kids generally associate having lots of “friends” online to mean that they have lots of friends in real life, how popular they are or it may give them a sense of self-validation. Teaching your teen to be more selective before they befriend someone online is essential. Teaching them that quality is better than quantity can be priceless. Also, encourage your kid to edit their privacy settings whenever possible to restrict access to outsiders. All social networks have the capability to make a profile completely private. However, some networks allow you to easily change privacy settings on individual posts or pictures.
2. Educate yourself so you can identify when there is a threat.
One of the scariest things I learned recently is that my daughter and her friends couldn’t identify what bullying was. They told me about some girls that were being mean and repeatedly spreading rumors about a girl. When I told them that was bullying, the said “No it’s not. That’s just how kids are these days.” We’ve all had experiences where someone said something mean to us growing up. We have to learn to shake this off and move forward. The problem with bullying is that it is continual and it grows. Many times it starts off with one person bullying another, and before you know it the bully now has an army of bullies. Being able to identify bullying and other threatening behavior is the first step. After all, if you can’t identify the problem, how can you take actions to stop it? Bully is defined as: a blustering, quarrelsome, overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidates smaller or weaker people.
3. Wait before you post.
I often read or learn about things that light my fire. What I’ve learned and shared with my children is to wait before you post. If someone says something that touches a nerve, write it down or type it out on a Word doc. Depending on the topic and how it affects you, you might want to wait 30 minutes or even a day or two before you post it online… if you decide to post it at all. What happens is that now, you can go back and read what you wrote. You can process it. You can modify it. You have the time to really THINK about the message you want to convey, how others will view it and if it is really appropriate to post about it on a public forum.
I think one of the most important things for parents is that – at some point – your kids will venture out into the (social media) world alone and – just like in the real world – you need to communicate and prepare them well.