8 Experts Share Tips on Helping Students Through Social Media Mistakes

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September 28, 2021

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This is great info, thanks for giving me some ideas on how to start a dialogue with my teen!


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Table of Contents

Social media moves fast. It takes seconds to share a thought or a photo across multiple social media platforms, but those seconds can lead to long-term consequences when the posts become popular and widespread.

New social media challenges become popular so quickly that parents and concerned educators may not find out about them until after there have been serious injuries or consequences.

We asked 8 experts on how parents and educators should handle a situation in which a student makes a mistake on social media. These experts walk through the steps in communicating with a student, how parents and educators can use real-life examples, and how to prevent future mishaps from occurring.

1. When you mess up, fess up

Tal Shelef, Realtor and Co-Founder, Condo Wizard

Tal Shelef

Outrageous images, sarcastic remarks, and tasteless humor are a few of the social media blunders students make from time to time, which can lead to damaged sentiments or worse. These mistakes are unavoidable as students learn how to use social media with a positive intention. So, how can we train them to address these issues before they erupt into chaos? Here are some valuable tips:

Teach students to own their mistakes
It's unprofessional to blame someone else for your mistakes, which is a lesson students learn online and offline. “When you mess up, fess up,” as the saying goes. Help students learn that rather than pointing fingers, take full responsibility and confess you made a mistake. Next, if at all practicable, suggest ways they may aid in the rectification of the problem. In the long term, this goes a long way toward making someone appear more respectable and ethical.

Be an example
Students must learn how to handle a mistake with honesty, understanding, and, above all, patience. This might be the most challenging lesson to impart to our digital natives. The rapidity with which they communicate digitally heightens their sense of urgency. Youth are led to believe that they must address issues immediately, but in reality, healing takes time. Teach them that it's okay to take a deep breath, gain some perspective, and then go about solving the problem step by step.

2. Deletion, issuing apologies, & private convos can help

Karen Gross, Author

Karen Gross

We all make mistakes on social media. I think we need to admit to young people that they are not alone in making mistakes online. It is worth providing an example of one's previous error and how one handled it.

The appropriate response is very context-dependent. There is no one approach for a social media mistake. Deletion may be proper, but not always. Apologizing publicly is another way, but even then, an apology can make things even worse.

Sometimes, a private conversation is the best approach with the offended person. Silence is sometimes the best approach, too (especially if it is a comment related to politics or alike subject).

One social media technique moving forward may be to insert a pause before sending or posting, even if the delay is momentary.

3. Own your mistakes

Zara Pillinger, Studyforfe

Zara Pillinger

Social media is quite a sensitive environment. Students may not know what to do when mishaps happen. If your student does make a social media mistake, encourage and help them follow these steps:
1. Don't panic.
2. Tell a trusted adult or friend to help you navigate what to do next.
3. Don't ignore the mistake on social media. Instead, admit it, but don’t try to cover it up with more responses that may fuel the fire.
4. Never blame a mistake on someone else.
5. Focus on moving on even when others do not.

4. Think before you click

Craig Miller, Co-Founder, Academia Labs LLC

Craig Miller

Nowadays, there are many “keyboard warriors,” people who comment on anything with a hurtful intention. If, by any chance, you came upon your student's responses like a “keyboard warrior” it is best to talk to your student about positive ways to use their time on social media.

If the student feels sorry for what they posted online and recognizes that they have hurt people because of their comments, they can apologize to the others privately.

If your student has hurt many people, you can suggest that they create an apology video and post it online. Just make sure that they adequately addresses the problem and admits to their wrongdoings.

Remind your student that just deleting the comment and acting like it didn't happen doesn’t erase the pain he has caused others. Hence, a proper apology is needed.

Lastly, this is what I always tell my students: Think before you click. We are all given the responsibility to think about whatever we post on our socials, so we have to think twice before posting. Help students to learn how to assess their post and ask themselves if their parents, siblings, or loved ones would be proud if they see the post.

5. Provide a communication gateway, actively listen, and do not react

Jessica Robinson, Content & Outreach Manager, The Speaking Polymath

Jessica Robinson

1. Parents and educators should have open communication with students and develop a way to speak about their problems and concerns openly.
One of the most important things that parents and educators should do to help students when they make a mistake on social media is to have open communication with them. This is the very first step.

When students know that they can talk to their parents and educators about anything without being judged or being afraid of the adult’s reaction, they’ll feel free to talk about their life on social media. Otherwise, they’ll always be in a dilemma whether or not to share concerns and get help, big or small. So, parents and educators should develop a gateway for students to speak about their problems and concerns openly.

2. Parents and educators should practice active listening.
Active listening is the act of listening with your absolute attention without judging anything or immediately jumping to conclusions. It involves giving your whole self to the speaker and understanding things from his perspective. When you listen attentively, you make the speaker feel valued.

A connection of trust develops between you and the speaker that enables the speaker to speak from their deepest core. By listening actively, you provide the speaker with a sense of security.

3. Avoid jumping to the “let's fix it” mode.
As parents and educators, we often jump to the “let’s fix it” mode when our students come to us with issues. But, by doing so, we often make our students afraid of coming to us with their concerns in the future. So, we must keep calm and avoid jumping to the “let’s fix it” mode when students come to us.

Instead, we should listen to our students patiently and take some time before jumping into action. This will give students the impression that we can handle things calmly and will encourage them to share more with us without worrying about our reaction.

What can do if something they have done has upset others on social media or leads to the breaking out of a fight on social media?

  • Keep calm
    Students can be sensitive. Sometimes, even little things become a cause of too much stress for them. They should know that it is possible to get out of trouble by taking the right actions. But, to take the proper steps, they have first to be calm. If they cannot handle their emotions and feel overwhelmed, they should speak to a family member or a trusted friend. This will help them relax a little and sincerely think about the next steps that need to be taken.
  • Discuss the exact sequence of events with an adult they trust and seek trusted guidance
    Students feel afraid about discussing problems with adults because of the fear of being scolded. But, they must know that even if their parents or adults scold them, they are the only ones they can ultimately count on.
  • Apologize if it’s right to do so
    No doubt, it may be hard for them to do so, but they should know that sometimes it is better to apologize to save themselves from landing into an even bigger problem. Have a face-to-face interaction with the parties involved, maybe in the presence of adults together, adults and students can plan what they have to say before a face-to-face conversation. They should resolve to not do anything that adds fuel to the fire.
  • Delete the comments or posts, once problems have been sorted
    Deleting the comments and posts that have resulted in controversies or fights on social media doesn’t work well unless the issues have been resolved. So, it is first essential to fix the problems, and then, once things get sorted out, it is good to delete the respective comments and posts to avoid landing into any troublesome issues in the future.
  • Ensure that they do not add fuel to the fire with any further comments or posts
    Many times, when students, and even adults, get caught in social media controversies or fights, they may start feeling angry, agitated, or frustrated. As a result, they may end up making further comments that can add fuel to the fire. They should discuss the situation with a trusted adult before making any additional comments in the mind’s angry or agitated zone.

How to help students prevent mistakes from happening in the future:

  • Remind students to always be cordial in their interactions on social media
  • Help students think for themselves and avoid engaging in groupism
  • Think twice before posting anything on your social media accounts

6. Be less reactive on social media

June Escalada, Co-founder, PhotoshopBuzz

June Escalada headshot
June Escalada

Parents and educators can help students when they make a mistake on social media by supporting them through the issue rather than ostracizing them for doing so. We want students to learn from their mistakes, not be scorned because of them.

This help can come in the shape of encouraging them to be less reactive on social media platforms or helping students understand why their behavior was a mistake and what they can do to avoid the same situation in the future.

If a reaction to social media starts a fight or other issue, students can either try to deescalate the situation or simply disengage from interacting with it. Sometimes an offline conversation can help, but this can also increase the chance of more tension.

If a student comes to me to share a mistake, I always do my best to listen with active ears and not judge them based on their actions. Instead, I help them come up with ideas of how they could change their behavior and why social media can be such a problematic outlet.

7. Leaving the right digital footprints

Carla Diaz, Co-founder, Broadband Search

Carla Diaz

It’s a difficult conversation to have, especially given the current discussions surrounding many sensitive topics in today's society. Whether it is regarding religion, race, politics, health, or other controversial topics, we must understand that these topics have different implications in different areas around the country.

Help your students or teens know that involving themselves in controversial conversations is not bad, but that their stance on something should be developed as an individual and not as part of a trend or such. They need to educate themselves on subjects from credible sources and understand the severity of taking a stance in a public forum. Being open to communication about why either person feels the way they do on a specific subject can be a learning experience for both parties.

8. Mistakes are learning opportunities

Anne Livingston, Digital Parenting Expert, Familoop

Anne Livingston

When parents worry about their students making mistakes online, they usually focus on sexting and stranger danger. While it is important to talk about these headline-grabbing issues, they can overshadow what students are really dealing with every day.

After school, students are hanging out with their friends and classmates on Facebook, Snapchat, on Instagram. It is during these day-to-day social networking interactions when they are most often running into trouble.

Communication happens fast online. It is so easy to quickly post or respond to someone without really thinking it through.

Missteps are not the end of the world, but an opportunity to learn.
Bear in mind that everyone can see it. Suddenly, classmates are chiming in and commenting on it or liking it. One hasty message can lead to a heated exchange where it feels like the entire school or other social community is weighing in. It can happen so quickly; a student may not know what to do or if they can do anything. Everyone makes mistakes. Missteps are not the end of the world, but an opportunity to learn. Even in the digital world, students should never feel a mistake is too big to rectify. Correcting a mistake online is not so different from repairing a mistake offline. The sooner they deal with it, the easier it will be to fix it.

3 tips for turning a mistake into an opportunity
1. Ask questions
When my students come to me with a problem, I find it hard not to jump in to fix it mode. Parents should take a breath and let their students share what happened.
Especially with social media mistakes, students often have problems not only online but also in the school hallways. Besides discussing the post, text, or picture, talk to them about what is happening between them and their classmate. Reassure them that you are glad they came to you and by working together you can find a solution.

2. Discuss concerns
These early mistakes are a chance to teach students about sharing online. As they grow, they will be spending more time online with friends, classmates, and strangers. Digital conversations happen quickly and can spread widely. Unfortunately, a thoughtless picture or post can become part of a student’s online digital record or footprint. Families should take time to discuss why everyone needs to be extra careful about what they share on social media and in text messages. Remind them that it should not be online if they would not say it to a person’s face.

3. Make amends
Parents can work behind the scenes to help their students deal with the mistake both online and offline. As soon as possible, they should delete the inappropriate comment or picture. While someone may still have taken a screenshot, removing the original will reduce its visibility and lessen its impact. After deleting, parents should discuss with their students how to tell their friends and or classmate they are sorry. Even in the digital age, the best way to heal a friendship is often apologizing face to face.

Parents can catch mistakes early by participating with their students on social media or reviewing their activities.

Going forward, families should work together to draft a smartphone social media agreement that outlines the appropriate use of technology. Building a contract together is a fantastic way for parents to check in and kick start a conversation.

Parents can also help catch mistakes early by participating with their students on social media or reviewing their activities. By talking about what they should post, what they should not post, and why, parents can teach students how to use social media to build and enhance friendships.


The biggest takeaways for parents and educators to keep in mind are to resist a negative reaction towards a student who has made a mistake, show negative judgment towards a student, or get worked up over something posted online. The goal should be to learn from the mistakes that were made so students can learn to Shine Online in the future.

Do you have tips for dealing with a social misstep online? Let us know what you found that worked and what did not work.

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