As parents, it’s important to talk to your children about the dark side of social media before they learn about it from untrusted (or dangerous) sources. We believe that no safety resource is better for parents than having an open dialog with their children about digital safety. While technology can be a tool for students to use in a positive way, it’s impossible to ignore the dangers of social media. So, we asked 5 experts to share ways parents can talk to their kids about the dark side of social media and tips for keeping families safe online.
1. Even if your children aren’t on social media, educate them on the dangersTeana McDonald, 3E Connections, Inc., @3EConnections
There’s a dark side to many things in life but social media is the most talked about in the current landscape. As a social media company and a mom of 2 (who don’t have social media), I have to educate them on the dangers of it all. For the kids who are fully engaged and using tons of platforms, it’s important to show them real life examples of what’s happening in the world as it pertains to social media: bullying, kids being targeted via video games, chat rooms, kids being kidnapped and lured to meet – all of it. Most kids relate and rely on the internet, social media, and YouTube for their content. Parents should use the same platforms as their children to show them the underlying dangers and consequences of the platforms that they use everyday (there are tons).
Children who are not permitted to engage on social media are still at risk if they interact and engage through video games, YouTube, and with kids who are active on social media. As a parent, teach them that there is always a camera around and their friends don’t understand the risk and impact of posting a picture or video. It’s important for parents to teach their children to be aware, ask questions, and behave appropriately.
There are serious dangers to consider before allowing others to have videos and photos of your children. What if they use your child’s image and videos on their social sites to engage with other strangers?
The dialog about the dark side of social media should happen a few times a week and should be very casual. Consider having a discussion around the dinner table when you’re talking about school, activities, their friends, etc. As parents, we don’t want to come across as nosey and bossy but more so as a supportive advisor and listener.
2. Find relevant news stories to share with your teenKevin J. Roberts, Cyber Addiction Author
Parents must begin teaching digital safety early. Technology and the Internet must make up conversations you have with your child from perhaps 3 or 4 years old. Talk about other children whom you know about who got addicted to screen time and the negative consequences that resulted. At this time, parents must also model a healthy relationship with technology. If parents spend hours a day on Facebook or Instagram, they will lack credibility in their child’s eyes. Parents establish credibility by being a model themselves, and by setting limits for their entire family.
Here are five easy steps all families can put into practice:
- Have at least some tech-free time as a family. Don’t allow smart phones at the dinner table, for example
- In addition to tech-free time, have tech-free zones. Many families I work with choose to use the family room for this purpose. Cell phones, video game consoles, laptops, iPads, and computers are not allowed in there
- Set a maximum time allowed on video games and the computer. I recommend no more than two hours a day
- For each minute spent on the computer or video game, require a minute of exercise. This will allow you to combat the tendency for technology to create sedentary children
- No TV’s, computers, or video game consoles in the bedroom
Incidentally, parents must follow these rules too! If you allow your children to police you as well, it will empower them, and serve to create a more harmonious and balanced family. With these steps, parents can communicate the all-important principle that Internet access is not a right but rather a privilege. Meeting target behaviors and certain expectations are required in order to receive and maintain that privilege.
These early school years are also a good time to start teaching children about digital safety. Students need to be made aware of several important factors:
- Passwords are not to be shared
- Never give out your address, age, or phone number online
- Report any bullying activities to a parent
- If someone you do not know is trying to converse with you online, do not respond and tell a parent
As your child gets close to their teenage years, this discussion should include mention of sending out inappropriate material via text, social networking, and email and discuss the legal ramifications of such activities. In addition, parents should make their teen aware that anything they post online could become part of an enduring record that might come back to haunt them. Do a simple google news search and find relevant stories to share with your teens. Just as we alert to stranger danger in other contexts, we must have frank discussions about the dark side of social media and the internet.
3. Use real stories when talking to your children about digital safetyJaynay C. Johnson, MFT, Teen Talk Therapy, @DearTeenSelf
Have a conversation with your children about what is considered private information. Many teens may not know what private information is and how sharing it could create a dangerous situation. Similarly, they may not recognize how one of their choices could impact their family’s safety.
Set social media limits. Parents can start a social media platform rule by only allowing their teen to be on one or two social media platforms that they monitor. This gives the parent an opportunity to engage with the content their teen is sharing and to see any potential safety issues.
Consider creating social media contracts. Create a contract with your teenager around social media usage. This is especially useful if the teen has struggled to use social media appropriately in the past.
Parents should use real stories about compromised safety when talking to their teen. While fictional stories are helpful, a real story allows the teen to ask questions about what happened, making it feel more relatable. Choosing a real story that has a variable related to the teen is also helpful (eg. same city, age, favorite media platform and etc…).
4. Just like with driving, parents must prepare students for the dark side of social media
Ayinde K. Williams, Author
Social Media has some confusing rules. No one wants to block their kid from using social media, that’s like refusing to teach them how to drive on the grounds that they’ll start going to bad neighborhoods. But just like with driving, you’ve got to get them ready for the world. Open communication is best, and don’t take anything for granted like you’d do with an adult. Ask them questions about what they’re seeing online (no judgments on how they got there), and how they feel about it. The goal isn’t to shield them from the dark side of social media, it’s to help them come to the conclusion that the dark side isn’t worth bothering with. That should be balanced with tips and tools on using social media as a portfolio for college and beyond. Convince students that the bad stuff isn’t worth it; show them how being positive on social media is much more worth their time.
5. Rather than banning social media, supervise your kids and teens use of it
Emily Mendez, M.S. EdS, Mental Health & Substance Abuse Expert
Social media has many positive aspects for both teens and adults alike. You have access to worldwide news and knowledge. Adolescents and teens can learn about cultures and nationalities all over the globe. They learn about other cultures’ music, likes, and way of life.
There is also a dark side to social media, however. Most social media is based on image — Snapchat Discover, Instagram, and Pinterest are all based on images. There is a constant stream of images and videos from friends and advertisers. There are a lot of damaging images out there. Another dangerous behavior that was highly promoted on social media among teens was eating Tide Pods. Many kids and teens were seriously harmed by doing these challenges and posting about them on social media.
Kids and teens will find a way to access social media even if you prohibit it. Rather than banning social media, supervise your kids and teens use of it. Make sure that they are using age-appropriate apps and sites that you can monitor. Also, have conversations about unhealthy behaviors promoted on social media. Make sure your teen knows that these behaviors are unsafe. Keep up with social media trends that are popular with adolescents and teens. Have a conversation with your teen about the dangers of engaging in behavior that they see on social media.