These days, the Internet is a fact of life. So much of our day-to-day is wrapped up in the online world, which makes it no wonder that digital citizens are becoming younger and younger. If you’re a parent, you may have already been subjected to pleas for a smartphone, or you might have spotted your child navigating their social media profiles on the family computer. Although the Internet is a great learning tool, it’s the social network aspect that has many parents worried, and rightly so – in this age of cyber-bullying, online trolls, and unseen predators, it’s hard to keep your kids protected from the dark side of the Internet. However, keeping them off of social media altogether can be an equal struggle, so let’s examine how you can manage your child’s social media use in a fair way, but also keep an eye out for any potential threats.
The Risks and Rewards of Social Media
Social networks have expanded far beyond Facebook (which, ironically, many young adults consider “not cool” anymore) – now there’s Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Snapchat, and many more platforms where kids and teens can connect with others. And they’re doing so in huge numbers – the New York Times reports that “fifty-seven percent of 13- and 14-year-olds use Facebook, 44 percent use Instagram, and 21 percent use Twitter, according to the Pew Research Center. And as 13-year-olds begin to mix social media into their lives, they open a window into the carefully curated lives of their classmates. Many are delighted by that additional connection, but even the most socially deft teenagers can feel left out of pictured fun that doesn’t include them, get caught up in online conflict, or feel slighted by a lack of appreciation of their posts.” In other words, an already-confusing and drama-filled teenage life may only be complicated further when a second “online life” is taken into account.
But for many kids, they couldn’t do without it. It can help connect them to peers, to meet other likeminded friends across the world, and to find communities where they can be social and express their opinions. It’s replaced the telephone or face-to-face hangouts as the main way they communicate with their friends, and being without social media could possibly mean being ostracized by their real-life social groups. You, as the parent, just need to make sure you’re vetting the places they’re hanging out online and keeping an eye on what things they’re posting. “As much as the Internet can provide a wealth of knowledge, interaction and entertainment, it can also be the equivalent of digital quicksand that consumes everything that falls into it — including your child’s online reputation,” warns an article at TweetReports.
Discussing Boundaries and Managing Use
When it comes to a parent limiting usage of social media or requesting that they view everything their child posts online, some pushback is expected. It’s common for your child to react defensively (even more so if you have a teenager), claiming that they’re not doing anything wrong and that they feel like they have no privacy. However, you need to firmly remind them that as long as they live in your house, they have to play by your rules – and that goes double if they’re surfing the web on a device that you’ve bought and paid for, like a family computer or a smartphone that you’re footing the bill for. In the event that you are in a co-parenting situation with a former partner, be sure that you’ve both discussed social media rules and maintain the same policies between both households.
As for exactly what goes online, it’s worth having a frank discussion with your child or teen about what’s considered appropriate, and what can possibly put them in harm’s way. Make sure they know that they should talk to you before engaging in conversation online with someone they don’t know personally, and emphasize that under no circumstance should they be sending inappropriate photos of themselves to anyone, acquaintance or not.
Also, posting information online about when the family isn’t home (when everyone’s going on vacation, for example) can lead to burglaries. It’s always best to be clear and straightforward with your child about what personal information they should and should not be revealing publicly on social media, including their location, email address, and phone number.
Social media can be a fantastic tool for keeping your kid engaged and happy, but it can also have a dark side in revealing too much information to unknown acquaintances. Instead, take the time to talk to your child about what is and isn’t expected of them on social media, and let them know that Mom or Dad will be keeping an eye on their online conduct. What they post online now can affect their safety, and possibly their future reputation.
About the Author
Christie Hopkins has personal and professional ties to the Family Law industry. She has extensive experience working with families going through child custody disputes. Christie approached Family Law with attentiveness and care to ensure both parties feel valued and heard.