Social media is an awesome tool that can be used to maintain a positive presence online. We believe that kids should be using social media to build a portfolio and share positive messages with their friends, potential college recruiters, and job interviewers. We all know that there are predators out there. It’s dangerous to put personal information and locations out there for anyone to see. That’s why social media safety is important.
Parents have a right to be concerned about what their child is doing and really should be monitoring the sites their child is using and the new apps they are downloading. Josh spoke with Fox 8 Cleveland about social media safety and gave five tips that can help you have productive and meaningful conversations with your children.
Talk With Your Kids About Social Media Safety
It’s important to give your kids a “why” when you tell them they can’t have a phone until they’re 13, or that they can’t have Instagram and Snapchat until they are even older than that. Each parent has a right to decide when and how much their kids can use their phone, but kids will respond better if they have a reason that isn’t “because I said so.” Help your kids understand that their safety is very important to you. There are people online who aren’t going to love your kids like you love them, so you have to be the first defense against predators, online bullying, and addiction. Being honest with your kids about your concerns will help them to actually think about their own safety, and apply your rules in a thoughtful way.
Think of your kid’s phone like a car. You wouldn’t want to hand your child the keys to a car on their 16th birthday if they haven’t practiced driving or learned all the safety rules. The same goes for their phone. Kids need to know safe practices and understand the rules that they have to follow. That way they know that if they break a rule, their phone will get taken away.
Google Search Your Kid’s Name With Them
Young kids often don’t understand that what goes on the internet stays there. One Google search with your kid’s first and last name will show them what anyone can see if they search for them. They might find things they don’t like or things that aren’t related to them but to other people with their same name. This is a chance to ask your child what they want people to see when they search for them.
We recommend that children around 8 years old start thinking about their dreams. What do they want to be when they grow up? What college do they want to go to? Obviously, at 8 there shouldn’t be a lot of pressure about one job or one college, but just getting them to think for themselves about their future will help to reinforce the point. What do they want their dream college to see if they do a Google search in ten years? What kinds of things are your kids posting online that they might not want professionals to see? Seeing firsthand what can show up through a Google search might make your kids think twice before posting something that might not be appropriate.
Be On Your Kid’s Social Media Apps
You might read this tip and think, “I don’t have time to be on all of those apps.” We get it. At the very least, you should have your kid’s password to their phone and to all of their apps so you can check on them. But it’s also a good idea to be friends with them on these apps. That way, you don’t have to take their phone to see what they are posting or who they are interacting with. Having their password will allow you to check direct messages, since this is where predators will most likely reach out. It’s important to know everywhere your child is present online. Keep in mind that it’s popular for kids to have a “finstagram” or fake instagram. A separate account from their original, a “finsta” is where kids will post things only for their close friends, mostly silly things they don’t want to put on their public account. Sometimes, though, “finsta’s” are used to share things kids don’t want their parents to see. Ask your kid about all of their accounts, including the ones they may be hiding. Let your kid know that they shouldn’t be posting anything that you wouldn’t like seeing, anyway. Having transparency and good communication will make it easier for you to keep your kids safe. They can have a more private account, but you need to be on the friend’s list still.
Create a Social Media Contract
Along with being on your kid’s apps or having their passwords, we recommend creating a contract with them. This way you can set a list of rules that your kid must follow in order to keep their phone. These rules can be things like “always answer your phone,” or “if I ask to see your phone you must let me.” You can even add in “don’t make fake accounts.” Having your kid look at this contract and then sign it will make them think twice before doing something they know they shouldn’t. One page contracts are easy to create through Google, or you can use the one provided by Smart Social in our Digital Driver’s Ed program. It’s important to let your kids know that you care about their social media safety.
Show Your Teens and Tweens the Positives of Social Media
At around 8 years old your kid should start thinking about their dreams, so by 10-13 they will be ready to maintain a positive presence online. Help your kids create a digital portfolio online. A simple website that showcases their interests and their talents will make them stand out to potential colleges, and it will be a place your kids can go back to for a confidence boost. It’s so easy for kids to get bullied online, so having a place of their own that really showcases their strengths will be concrete proof of how great they really are. You can build a private portfolio for your kids using Google sites, or even Wix or Squarespace, depending on how technical you want to get. Help them create this portfolio when they are young, and when they get to high school you can help them launch it and optimize it for Google.
These five steps will really help you open up a dialog with your kids about social media safety, and how what they do online affects them today and in their future. This is not a one time conversation. You should be talking with your kids again and again, reassessing their needs and how you need to handle their app use. Apps and websites can be wonderful tools, if they are used in a positive manner. The only way to ensure that your kids stay safe is to make them aware of the dangers and how to stay away from it.