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 15 social media safety experts to share their best tips for students who want to start using social media responsibly.
1. Social media can showcase a student’s aptitudeNatalie Bidnick Andreas, Digital Strategy Consultant, @NatalieBid
Don’t avoid having a social media footprint. Parents may “outlaw” certain platforms due to their potential to cause harm, but my research shows that not existing at all online can actually be more detrimental to a student’s future college applications and job prospects. Instead, parents should counsel their children to see social media as a public tool – their “calling card” into the world.
Platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram can showcase a student’s aptitude in sports, creative projects, travel, academic pursuits, and overall communication skills. Students can certainly still post pictures of the homecoming dance and the football game, but space should also be dedicated to their passions. It’s not about being fake – it’s more about showcasing a student’s favorite aspects of life.
If parents are apprehensive about their child’s participation in social media, I recommend working through the “front yard test” as a family. Everything posted on social media should pass the “front yard test”; that is, it should be appropriate enough to put on a large sign in the front yard or other public community space. Parents can ask their children: “How would you feel if all your future teachers and bosses saw this post on our front lawn?” If the child would feel ashamed, it’s not fit to post.
The “front yard test” exercise gets students thinking ahead to college and beyond. After all, no matter how “anonymous” they may try to be online, future schools and employers will be able to access their digital footprint. It’s up to each child and their family to plan ahead and to post accordingly.
2. Follow your children on social mediaBetsy Furler, Author and Speaker, @BetsyFurler
Responsible use of social media is critical for students today. Students need to be aware that what they post on social media may be available online forever. If they don’t want their grandparents, teachers, or future employers to see something, it shouldn’t be online.
The easiest method of staying safe and responsible online is for parents to follow their children online. This ensures oversight in case there is an issue, as well as a “check and balance” of content.
3. Go through the terms of service with your childrenAmy Vernon, Adjunct Professor at New York University, @AmyVernon
Parents can teach their children digital safety by going through a site’s terms of service, line-by-line, and explaining it to them. Consider reading it verbatim and then explain what each clause means. At the end, explain that if they accepted the terms, they need to abide by these rules, or their accounts could be deleted.
It makes an impression and encourages students to ask a lot of questions. Students will be much more thoughtful about how they use social media and how they behave online.
4. Logging time spent on social media can be eye openingDr. 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 this 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 looking at their posts might conclude if they didn’t know them.
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 online.
Finally, give them the long view: What impact does this post have or what reputation will this post give me a decade from now?
5. Start a discussion early onVarda Meyers Epstein, Kars4Kids, @EpaVard
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, it’s best not to say it.
- Vet friend requests carefully – if you can’t see enough information to make an informed decision, it’s 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.
6. Teach accountabilityTom 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. 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’s how kids learn.
Students must be educated by the school with regards to digital citizenship and there must be consequences if rules are violated. This sends a strong message that social media must be used responsibly.
7. Encourage students to use technology meaningfullyTroy Dvorak, Psychology Professor, @RockinPsychProf
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.
8. Remind teens that nothing is private onlineDave Delaney, Futureforth, @DaveDelaney
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.
9. Guide students on how to use social media effectivelyKristen 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.
10. Students shouldn’t count on anonymityPatrick Fogarty, Valley Stream 30, @Fogarty22
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.
11. Advise students to THINK about what they are going to postMatthew Nance, Kiwanis International
T – is it Truthful
H – does it Help?
I – does it Inspire?
N – is it Nice or Necessary?
K – is it 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 that 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 criterion. For example, a student might be tweeting in support of their favorite team or wishing someone happy birthday. These tweets may not qualify as a perfect “THINK” post, but they do not violate any of the above questions. Therefore, no harm, no foul.
12. Understand the pros and cons of social mediaMoniQue 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. Over time, the pros and cons to being socially responsible on social media become very clear.
13. Become a source of useful informationIlena Di Toro, Just Movie Posters, @JMPosters
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 achievements (sports or hobbies) or articles from websites, broadcast, or print media, which are useful sources of information for the viewer. Providing helpful information online benefits the reader and it also boosts your reputation as somewhat of an “expert”.
14. Manage what is posted onlineDan Konzen, University of Phoenix, @DanKonzen
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.
15. Urge students to question their content before they post
Johnna Ithier, SpeakLIFE
Urge students to 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.
When students learn how to use social media responsibly they are less likely to make mistakes that can impact their digital footprint.
Before giving your student access to social media, parents can:
- Go through the terms of service with their children
- Start a discussion early on
- Inform students that there will be consequences right away if there are any social media mishaps
- Remind teens that nothing is private online
- Teach their children about the pros and cons of social media
- Urge students to question their content before they post
Once your students are active on social media, parents can:
- Follow them on all of their social networks
- Encourage students to post content that showcases their aptitude
- Log the time their student spends online
- Become a resource for their students when they have questions or feel uncomfortable about content they see on social media
- Monitor their student’s online activity