Before giving your child access to the Internet, social media, or digital devices you want to ensure that they are prepared. As parents and educators, it’s important to teach children that using social media responsibly is one of the first steps to becoming a good digital citizen. Ensuring that students start on the right foot digitally can prevent them from making serious social media mistakes that could cost them their dream school or career opportunity.
So, we asked 12 social media safety experts to share their best tips for students who want to start using social media responsibly.
Dr. Tim Elmore, Growing Leaders, @TimElmore
Ask to meet and talk about the influence and the hours consumed by social media. Often, logging in the hours a teen spends online can be eye-opening for them. Many spend the equivalent of a full-time job staring at a screen.
You can also do the following:
- Ask to scroll through their posts with them.
- Interpret the tone and content of the posts and what it suggests about their character.
- Discuss how employers, coaches, instructors or mentors might view their sites.
- Ask them if they have ever noticed an attitude change in themselves, after reading or posting on social media.
- Suggest they follow the rule: I will only post what I want my reputation to be ten years from now.
This could be awkward, but actually sit with them and look at the posts uploaded both by them and to them. Discuss what you see together.
This may feel cheesy or cliché, but ask what someone might conclude if they didn’t know them—but saw their posts.
Next, talk about how students (grads) have lost their chance at a job because an employer viewed their social media posts.
This requires transparency, but discuss how you, or they, can experience a negative attitude or impulsive reactions on-line.
Finally, give them the long view: What impact does this post have or what reputation will this post give me a decade from now?
Varda Meyers Epstein, Kars4Kids, @EpaVard
Start a discussion early on
If you teach your teens the following points early on, they will develop responsible social media habits:
- Never take over another person’s thread to drive home a point
- Don’t go ad hominem when you disagree with someone; always remain respectful and calm
- Thank and tag people when you share something they shared first
- If you don’t have something nice to say, best not to say it
- Vet friend requests carefully – if you can’t see enough information to make an informed decision, best to decline the request and mark it as spam
- Don’t share anything you wouldn’t want your mom to see and don’t overshare
Tom Kersting, Valley Family Counseling, @TomKersting
It starts with parents. Parents must first ask the following question: Is my child ready for a smartphone and social media? Don’t worry if the other kids your children’s age have access to smartphones and social media and instead focus on your intuition.
Inform your child that there will be consequences right away if there are any social media mishaps. This means taking access away and following through with the rules that were agreed upon. Accountability is the key; it is how kids learn.
Students must be educated by the school with regards to digital citizenship and their must be consequences if rules are violated. This sends a strong message that social media must be used responsibly.
Urge students to question their content before they post
Once you hit send, post, etc… the message is no longer yours and the receiver can do anything they want with the message. –Johnna Ithier
Johnna Ithier, SpeakLIFE
Urge students ask themselves the following questions before they post anything online:
- Is the post TRUE or a rumor
- Is the post HELPFUL or harmful
- Is the post INFORMATIONAL or gossip
- Is the post NEEDED or irrelevant
- Is the post KIND or harsh
If the post is not any of these things, or you have to question it, you probably shouldn’t post it. Once you hit send, post, etc… the message is no longer yours and the receiver can do anything they want with the message.
Troy Dvorak, Psychology Professor, @RockinPsychProf
Encourage students to use technology meaningfully
I encourage my college students to text, tweet, and post information they learn during class when we take periodic class breaks. Teachers can create blogs and Facebook pages for their classes and offer credit to students who participate meaningfully. I also encourage students to follow people and organizations relevant to their major. The use of technology in classrooms is ubiquitous now so, rather than police it, teachers should have students make great use of it. If you keep them busy using technology for learning, they don’t have time to use it for other things during class.
Dave Delaney, Futureforth, @DaveDelaney
Remind teens that nothing is private online
First and foremost, never put anything online you don’t want your educators, future employers, peers, and parents to see. Deleted items can still live on servers. People can take screenshots of posts. Private accounts can be hacked. Nothing is 100% private online.
Students should actively grow and nurture their network on social media. Take time to get to know people and find ways to serve them.
Kristen Moon, Moon Prep
The college admissions process is competitive enough; students need be cautious to not sabotage themselves. Students need to assume that any picture, post, or tweet that is posted will be seen by the admissions officer at their dream college. Teach students to only put material out there that can benefit them. Students should create a LinkedIn page that is interactive and shows pictures and videos of their accomplishments, interests, and passions. Include the LinkedIn profile URL with the college application. This is a great way for students to make their resume come to life and show how they are using social media responsively and productively.
Patrick Fogarty, Valley Stream 30, @Fogarty22
Students shouldn’t count on anonymity
As simple as it sounds, if students wouldn’t say it in person, they shouldn’t type it. Students can’t count on a veil of anonymity on Twitter or any other social network. If someone wants to find out who you are, they will. Encourage students (and everyone else) to schedule their tweets using an app like HootSuite or Buffer. So they can type out whatever they want to say, then schedule it to send in an hour or two. That way, students have plenty of time to reconsider their posts before they go public.
Matthew Nance, Kiwanis International
Advise students to THINK about what they are going to post
T – is it truthful
h – does it help?
i – does it inspire?
n – is it nice or necessary?
k – Key Club related or kind?
Is their post truthful? Does their post/tweet reflect the true nature of the situation? Is their post only telling one side of the story? Does the post misrepresent the situation or leave out details which matter? Is the post helpful? Does their post/tweet help someone else understand something? Is the post helping their audience understand how they feel? Is the post helping someone get information? Is the post inspiring? Does the post/tweet encourage and lift up others? Does the post inspire someone to take action? Does the post inspire the reader to be their best self? Is the post nice or necessary? Does the post/tweet respect others? Is the post an opinion otherwise not being expressed? Does the post put others down? Does the post support others? Does the post serve those who are reading it? A single tweet or post may not meet all of these criteria. For example, a student might be tweeting their support of their favorite team or wishing someone happy birthday. Such tweets and posts aren’t all five of the items above. However, these tweets or posts do not violate any one of the above questions.
MoniQue Hoffman, QtheBrand, @QtheBrand
Students have more control over their future than they think when it comes to using social media. It’s important to understand how social media could make or break future educational or professional opportunities. Each student should complete a series of exercises that allow them to define who they are, who they are not, and what their biggest fear is when it comes to being misunderstood or misinterpreted. Analyzing past posts against their answers should put things into perspective for the student. Understanding the pros and cons to being socially responsible on social media will be very clear.
Ilena Di Toro, Just Movie Posters, @JMPosters
Become a source of useful information
When using social media, be a source that gives useful information to others, not a drain that wastes other’s time. Students can either post an infinite number of selfies, gossip messages or worse hate messages which drains the viewer. Conversely, they can post pictures of achievement (sports or hobbies) or news you can use articles from websites, broadcast or print media, which are sources of information for the viewer. Being a source is better for the poster and the person viewing the post.
Dan Konzen, University of Phoenix, @DanKonzen
Manage what is posted online
Practicing responsible social media is very simple. Students can easily build a strong, professional online brand by managing what is posted about them online:
- Perform a search on yourself to see what your online brand looks like. Start by googling your name and where you’re from.
- Go back and clean up what you can, making sure to remove any inappropriate posts and pictures from you or about you.
- Keep head shots as professional as possible, especially on sites like LinkedIn, which can be easily found by future employers.
- Create an alert to see what is posted about you online and on social media in the future.
Ultimately, students should think about what is posted online as a digital face tattoo; even if it is removed, it still leaves a scar.