Young people do not use social media. It is more like an essential organ, and using social media is more like breathing – something they do instinctively. However, this does not mean that children and young people do not need assistance or supervision when they engage in online interactions. While it’s not necessary to oversee every move your child makes, as parents, you should retain an active role in supervising social media activities of children and young people, as well as teaching young people to keep themselves safe.
Encourage Kid and Teen Friendly Sites
Very young children should not be involved with social media sites targeted toward older teens and adults. Even if you do supervise them closely, very young children do not belong on sites like Facebook, MySpace, Tumblr, or Reddit. Instead, steer younger kids toward kid friendly sites that restrict adult involvement to parental supervision. Many sites that are safe for kids allow them to engage in many of the same activities that are found on adult sites such as instant messaging and posting profiles. However, kid friendly sites place limits on how much information children can post online to prevent them from accidentally revealing information that could allow a predator to track them down.
Older children and teens need fewer restrictions, but they should also be directed away from groups and activities that are better suited for adults rather than young people. Seek out online teen hangouts and websites geared for young people. Check out any site where your child or teen wishes to participate before giving your OK.
Supervise, Don’t Spy
Many parents secretly install key loggers on their children’s computers or GPS devices on their cell phones in an effort to monitor their children’s behavior when they’re not around to supervise them directly. Such tactics frequently backfire. Very savvy teens often detect the spying mechanisms and either disable them or get around them so that you’re not aware of their whereabouts or what they are doing. Worse, such actions destroy whatever trust you may have established with your child or teenager.
A more productive approach is to openly discuss online safety with your child or teenager. Voice any concerns you may have and allow your child or teenager to have his or her say. In many cases, you will find that you and your child are not so far apart. Further, by establishing a foundation of open communication, you encourage your child to come to you if he or she encounters harassment, bullying or any other behavior that he or she cannot handle alone.
Many social media sites geared for children and teens automatically limit the amount of information that young people are allowed to share. Nonetheless, parents should supervise the process of constructing social media profiles for children. Do not allow children to post their full names, addresses or any other information that would allow predators to track them.
Instruct your children to be careful with seemingly innocuous information, such as birth dates, pets’ names and favorite colors or flavors. Do not allow them to give out this information unless you are certain of the identity of the recipient. Predators often use such personal information to pretend that they know a child in an attempt to lure him or her into going with them.
Chaperone Offline Meetings
Young children should never be allowed to “go offline” with anyone they’ve chatted with or with whom they have exchanged email messages. The only exception would be locally based social media groups where it is possible for parents to check out other members before allowing their children to arrange meetings. In such cases, parents should accompany their children to the meeting, which should take place in public, and remain with their children until the meeting is over.
Older teens may balk at having their parents supervise offline meetings, but do it anyway. Explain that supervision is a safety precaution, not an attempt to spy on them. Just as with younger children, offline meetings between teens should take place in public, and only after you’ve had the opportunity to check out the other person.
Watch for Warning Signs
If your normally cheerful teen is suddenly withdrawn and sullen, or if your child seems hesitant to go to school or hides his or her cell phone, social media problems may be to blame. Cyber bullying, sexting and other problems related to social media often manifest themselves in acting out or depression. Encourage your child to talk to you about what is going on with him or her. If cyber bullying is occurring, do not minimize the circumstances. Intervene in any way you can to get the perpetrators to stop, including contacting school officials, parents of the offending children or the police.