No matter how social media savvy you are as a parent, it’s easy to feel a little slow (out of it) when you watch your teens zipping around Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and the like. They probably make using social sites look effortless. But keep in mind that being adept at using social networking platforms doesn’t mean your teens don’t need you. Whether they know it or not, they need you to help them stay safe online and use social media responsibly. Here are 5 tips for doing just that:
- Talk a Lot and Often: Talk to your teens, on a regular basis, about social media. Discuss how you’re using it, how they’re using it, those funny memes your friend just posted and what you heard about a new site, app or feature. Work in some conversation about security, your concerns and responsible participation. Don’t lecture. Instead, focus on establishing an open and continuing dialogue with your teens. This allows you to provide (and get) feedback, without getting stuck in the nag zone.
- Friends Only: Explain to your teen that social media isn’t the place for getting to know strangers. Establish a friend-only policy, which means your teen will use privacy settings to ensure that only the people he or she knows and accepts as friends/followers can see his or her posts, videos, photos and profiles. Likewise, he or she can only exchange private messages with friends. If you do allow your teen to develop online friendships with people he or she doesn’t already know in the real world, make sure your teen knows not to ever set up face-to-face meetings or share personal details with these people. That new friend with whom your teen seems to have so much in common might not be a teen at all. Instead, he or she may be a predator taking advantage of the anonymity of the Internet to get close to your child.
- Think First: Encourage your teens to stop and think before they post. If your teen takes just a few moments to think before sharing that embarrassing or inappropriate photo of a friend, before making a hurtful comment, or before getting involved in an angry discussion, he or she may decide to take the high road, protecting friendships and his or her reputation (which may prove important when the time comes to apply for college or a job).
- Get the Logins: Even the most well-behaved, responsible teen will get into something untoward or make a mistake here and there. And you may not learn about these sorts of missteps until it’s too late. It doesn’t hurt to provide a bit of oversight and hands-on guidance. Make it a rule that your teen must share his/her up-to-date logins as a condition of social media participation. This rule should be non-negotiable. Though your teens may balk at it first, remind them that wearing a seat belt is a condition of driving or riding in a car, and this is the same sort of thing. The seat belt keeps them safe in the car, and you help keep them safe online.
- Monitor Your Teen’s Usage: Having the logins to your teen’s social media accounts won’t do you any good if you don’t use them. It’s not an invasion of his or her privacy for you to log on and view his or her accounts on a regular basis (maybe once a week). This is not about you failing to trust your teen or spying on him/her. It’s about you being a good parent. What are you looking for? Keep an eye out for activity that threatens your teen’s safety or breaks your rules regarding things like cyber-bullying, sharing of personal information, and friending strangers. Set consequences for breaking the rules and follow through on them.