Be honest—do you think your kids know more about social media than you do? If you just sighed and nodded quietly to yourself, take comfort in knowing that you’re definitely not alone. It can be challenging to keep pace with every social media platform that comes along in our hyper-connected world, but as a parent, there are plenty of statistics that suggest you should at least try.
The Common Sense Census found that American teens between the ages of 13 and 18 used entertainment screen media for an average of seven hours and 22 minutes each day in 2019. More specifically, approximately 63% of them use social media for more than an hour every day. Even if your kids don’t have their own smartphones, there’s a pretty good chance that they’re using one of the channels or apps.
Considering how popular social media is in kids’ lives today, we’d like to share a few suggestions and links to help you teach your kids about social media.
Even if you’re not the type of person who loves to brag on Instagram every time you’re about to eat an exquisite sandwich or sound off on Twitter when the grocery store won’t accept your expired coupon, consider creating social media accounts of your own. Ask your kids to follow your accounts so you can show them the kinds of things that a reasonable adult posts and ask their permission to follow theirs. If they’re not comfortable with you following them, don’t push it—but consider doing random spot checks on their activities from time to time.
If you plan to share about them—photos, embarrassing stories, etc.—ask for their permission before you post, and ask them to do the same for others. Not everyone wants to be tagged in a photo or an embarrassing story that may be seen and shared by complete strangers anywhere in the world. You may also want to consider discussing the concept of how abusing copyrighted material and intellectual property can have serious legal and financial consequences.
Educate and demonstrate what it means to be a good digital citizen by conducting yourself online as you would in real life. Just like any society, social media communities have expectations about behavior. Remind your kids that there’s always a human being behind the screen name and that they should treat EaglesFan1976774 with the same courtesy and respect that they would offer a stranger they pass in the street. Explain that even virtual activities can have serious real-world consequences.
Social media and the internet in general have a long memory. You don’t have to look very hard to find stories of people losing their jobs because they posted something online years ago and it resurfaced in the wrong place at the wrong time. When the next big social media fiasco erupts—and it will—take a few minutes to talk it over with your kids. What did the person in trouble do wrong? What consequences must they accept? How did their actions affect other people? What could they have done differently to avoid a negative outcome?
Perhaps most importantly, you need to have a frank discussion with your kids about online predators. Despite all of the rules and protections built into social media platforms to protect younger users, there are bad people online who use social media to lure children into trouble. Of course, you don’t want to terrify them and ruin their faith in humanity, but talk with them about how seemingly innocent online interactions with strangers can take dark turns.
Teach them to guard personal information about themselves and your family from people they don’t know personally. Encourage them to let you know if something happens online that feels weird or wrong, and assure them that they won’t get into trouble for telling you. Take any report of trouble seriously and investigate immediately. If you discover that something improper has taken place, consider calling the police to see if an investigation is warranted.
Social media is a powerful platform that can help your kids stay in touch with the world, and participating can be a great experience when they use it responsibly. As you teach them about other aspects of life, make time to have fun while you explore and learn about social media with them as well. Your social media memories may be online forever, so keep them safe!