Last week, I wrote about the mistakes children and teens make when using social media. I discussed the types of poor choices they commonly make and why most will make one or more of these mistakes as they learn to navigate social media.
Today, I want to suggest ten strategies for parents. These ideas are designed to do one of two things: 1) teach your children how to safely and responsibly use social media, or 2) protect them from making mistakes that may have long-lasting consequences.
1) Know your child’s personality and skills, and recognize how they are reflected in their use of social media. Is he excited by FB and twitter? Does she prefer being outdoors? Some tweens can download 5 social media applications faster than they can do a long division problem. Where do your children rest on the social media comfort continuum?
2) Snoop—unapologetically. Be honest about your intention to review their posts and online activity whenever you are so inclined, and then follow through. You may not need (or be able) to see every piece of information they put into cyberspace, but watch closely.
4) Don’t be afraid to scare them. Be completely honest about the risks in cyberspace, whether they are real physical dangers or practical considerations. Since kids don’t always take seriously the warnings of their parents, try to expose them to stories by law enforcement or business people whom they may consider more believable.
5) Don’t be naïve. Good kids make mistakes and errors in judgment when using social media. Learning to maturely and appropriately use the tools out there is a challenge, one that until now young people didn’t have to deal with. Be alert and patient during the process.
6) Recognize the addictive nature of social media. For parents 35 and older, we may not “get” the appeal of social media. In fact, we may struggle to get on board with any of it. For younger parents, that may be different. In any case, limit your child’s time on social media each day. Even those who behave perfectly on social media need to be doing other things—homework, chores, being outside, reading, extra-curricular and church activities, developing hobbies.
7) Be an example. Demonstrate the same smart practices and self-discipline with regard to posts and time spent that you expect your children to.
8) It takes a village. Let your friends help police your kids when they begin using FB or other applications. I wouldn’t want to hear my child posted something stupid from just anybody, but I would (and have) appreciate it if it comes from a trusted friend. We’re all in this together, so let those who care about you know it’s okay to help with this; be willing to do the same for them.
9) Use language they understand. It would be wonderful if our children always knew what we mean when we use words like “ungodly” or “inappropriate.” But when they don’t, use words like “trashy” or “gross.” Talk to them about popularity, perverts, employability and college applications. Have a conversation that will hit home with them, if more abstract terms do not.
10) Offer acceptable alternatives. If your child is too young to be responsible with social media, introduce other online resources. Pinterest is an example of something fun, but boards can be kept secret. Share an account with your daughter, and she might find lots of satisfaction in that.
This is a tough one for parents. What challenges have you faced, and what suggestions do you have to share with the rest of us?