The world is changing fast. I remember back in the day, 1995, when my first daughter was born. The Internet was just emerging as this fascinating unknown entity. We had no idea that by the time she was 12 there would be a whole world of social networking at her fingertips. It took us by surprise how quickly she entered into social networking, text messaging, and social web world. Would we have prepared differently had we known then what we know now? Absolutely!
Here are a few tips that may make your life easier as your child comes of age in this ever-changing world of the social networking for kids:
1. Start teaching kids when they are young about online danger. It is imperative that your child grows up understanding that not everyone is trustworthy and not everyone is good. You don’t want to scare them you just want to make them aware of the dangers. It is an ongoing conversation that needs to continue to be discussed and as they get older you need to be detailed about the dangers they may encounter.
These conversations are similar to the conversations you should be having with your child about protecting themselves against abuse, abduction and other dangers in the real world. Make sure you check out articles on tips for social networking for kids such as this one titled: A New Parent’s Guide to Social Media. There are a lot of resources out there, be sure to use them. And make sure you continue to search and research for the latest information because things can and will change.
2. Don’t avoid social networking for your kids or try to protect them from these tools by keeping them off the channels. These tools are a part of how the world now operates. Social media is going to continue to grow as a major part of the way we communicate. If you are overly protective or restrictive you are in essence restricting their development and ability to succeed in a world that is changing very quickly. You may not understand these tools yourself, which makes it very scary, but don’t let that keep you from allowing them to use the tool. It is your job as a parent to learn about these tools and to provide them with a safe way to use them. If your child is showing interest in a social media channel ask them to show you how it works. Read about it online and Google specifically “what parents need to know about ______” fill in the name of the social media website your child is interested in using or is currently using. The more you know, the easier it will be to guide your children and also watch what they are doing and make sure they are safe.
3. Get educated about social media and safe social networking. Take a class to learn the basics about what social media is and how it is used both personally and professionally. Then get some hands on tutoring so you know how the popular tools are used. You should set up your own social networking accounts in Facebook and whatever other social networking sites are most popular in your child’s peer group and use them so you understand how they work. Any channel your child is using you should also be using. You should login and interact with others and really work to learn the ins and outs of that channel. You also need to be watching your child on the channels they us and making sure that people they interact with are ok and not being inappropriate.
4. Start your kids on Facebook when they are young. Yes you heard me, set them up with a profile before they ask you to, I recommend 4th-5th grade. Show them how to use the tool. Set the expectation that you are their friend, set their privacy settings, and explain the rules and regulations in the very beginning. Make sure you pay attention and enforce the rules. My first daughter was an early bloomer with social media, she was on My Space in 5th grade at 10 years old and guess what? I had no idea! She had set up her profile at a friend’s house and was out there social networking with no parental guidance. It was somewhat surprising to find her using My Space and it resulted in a bit of conflict on what the expectations were. Many arguments could have been prevented had we started her at a young age and set the expectations early. With my younger daughter I set up expectations and her Facebook page long before she showed any interest. This helped avoid a lot of conflict and also has set her up for success in using social media.
5. Monitor your child’s computer usage. I believe in keeping the home computer in a central location that is not private. That way they know that I am watching what they are doing. It is too easy to put a computer in your kids’ room or allow them access to laptops, iPads or iPhones and not monitor their usage. I honestly believe this is a mistake until they are much older and understand how to be safe when social networking.
6. Check your kids social networking sites on a regular basis. I am not only my daughter’s friend, but I have her login ids and passwords and I use them regularly. I look at her public wall, her friend’s walls, her emails on the social network, her regular email and her text messages on a random but regular basis. Some people may believe in allowing their children more privacy than this. Every parent will have different values and approaches. In our household the rule was that there was no guaranteed digital privacy under the age of 18. The more the child was trustworthy, the less I felt the need to check. But I did check because there are too many unknowns out there and social media opens them up to many strangers. The way to keep your kid safe is to make sure you are tuned into who they are talking to and what type of conversations they are having. Again if you start this process with your kids when they are young they will hopefully grow into this being the norm and not have an issue with you checking.
It is the parents’ job to know what their kids are talking about and guide them as to what is appropriate and inappropriate to say. Does this sound exhausting? Yes it is at times! But the earlier you begin to implement these tips the easier it is. Having a well thought out plan and being consistent will make the whole process much easier. As parents it is our job to make sure our kids are safe, have a good understanding of how to use these social networking tools and are monitored to ensure that they are successful not only today, but in their future as they become young adults in a social web connected world. What tips or advice do you have? I would love to hear your thoughts.