Teaching safety on social media

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Today’s teens live in a world where technology is growing rapidly, and they are now almost always equipped with a cell phone or laptop to explore those changes.  

Whether it’s via text message or social media apps like Snapchat or Twitter, sharing information and images is part of a teen’s daily life.

Parents are now faced with not only monitoring their child in the real world, but also figuring out how to do the same in the virtual realm.

It’s important for parents to understand social media and learn about the different apps their children are using to help keep them safe online.

What can parents do?

Social media is constantly changing with new apps appearing all the time.

It can be hard for parents to keep up with what’s popular, but proper social media safety begins with understanding exactly which platforms your child uses, according to Chris Jones, licensed educational psychologist and owner of Dynamic Interventions.

Nowadays, technology is moving so quickly that it’s hard for parents to keep up, but it’s vital to learn the ins and outs of the apps your child is using so that you can understand if they are doing so safely, Jones said.

The first step is talking to your kids.

It’s so important that your children learn how to use social media wisely, and that starts with a conversation early on, said Monica Dedhia, licensed clinical social worker and program manager of access, crisis and community engagement at the Child & Family Center.

Dedhia suggests having these conversations when children are still in elementary school or maybe just starting middle school — before they are even introduced to social media.

“These early conversations should center around safety,” Dedhia said. “Focus on telling them what’s appropriate to put online.”

Both Dedhia and Jones suggest talking to your child about the benefits, as well as the potential risk factors like cyberbullying and online predators.

Educating children to never give out personal information and not to give out passwords except to parents, not even to friends, is vital, according to Jones.

“They need to understand that the consequences of those actions can be very severe,” Jones said.

They should also understand that anyone can see what they put online, according to Jones, and if they wouldn’t show it to an adult, then it’s probably not a good idea to put it online.

Kids also may not know what cyberbullying is, so teaching them to know what those dangers look like can help them identify it when it’s happening, Dedhia said.

Know the signs of cyberbullying.

If your child is angry or distressed after they’ve been on their phone, they’re anxious while on their phone, or they’re trying to be secretive, these are signs that they’re being bullied, according to Dedhia.

“Watch for changes in your child’s behavior, diet, friends or grades,” Jones said. “Those are indicators that there’s something not right that’s going on that needs to be dealt with.”

Trust is also important

While it’s important to be aware of what your kids do online, snooping can foster distrustful relationships and lead to secretiveness, according to Dedhia.

The key is to stay involved in a way that allows your kids to understand that you respect their privacy, but want to make sure they’re safe, according to both Jones and Dedhia.  

Create an environment of trust so that your child understands that it’s not about spying on them, it’s about making sure that appropriate communication is occurring, Jones said.

They need also to know that it’s not going to be a punitive conversation and that they can come talk to you, according to Dedhia.

“This may be hard, but the payoff is tremendous,” Dedhia said.

Jones agrees, and believes kids sometimes won’t tell their parents when something is wrong for fear of losing access to social media.

“I’ve had so many kids tell me that they’ve been bullied online and they didn’t tell their mom or dad because they were doing something that they shouldn’t have been doing and they were more afraid of losing their technology than they were of the consequences of that negative social interaction,” Jones said.

What about limits?

Kids don’t always make good choices when they post something, so it’s still important to set ground rules and monitor their social media use.

“Kids should have social media, but it just has to be monitored and regulated,” said Dr. David Judd, a clinical psychologist at Early Life Child Psychology & Education Center.

Although they probably won’t like it, becoming an administrator on your child’s social media account or following them can help you to be able to see what’s going on, according to Jones.

Judd suggests only allowing children to be on their phones for a maximum of three hours per day.

Dedhia believes knowing how kids are accessing social media is also important, and she suggests creating a house rule that only allows phone access in open areas, even for parents, with a centralized charging area that keeps phones away from bedrooms.

Cellphone usage in the evenings has been linked to sleep problems, so having your child turn off their devices one hour before bed and taking them away can help promote better sleep patterns, both Judd and Dedhia agree.

Regardless, parents need to be open about limitations, according to Judd, and with open communication and clear boundaries, children will be more willing to be honest with their parents.

Tips for parents:

There are various apps available to parents that can help monitor and regulate your child’s social media, according to Judd. The same exists for Internet usage through filtering software.

Set parental controls within apps, Dedhia suggests. This can also be done on your child’s phone via the settings app. You should also check your child’s privacy settings on each app to ensure their information is not compromised.

Reach out on social media and find out what other parents are doing and what successes they’ve had, Judd suggested.

But most importantly, set your own rules and find your own path because every family’s situation is unique, according to Judd.

For more information, visit internetmatters.org/advice/social-media-guides-parents/.

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