Keeping Your Child Safe On Social Media

In the past decade or so, social media websites have become one of the largest technological developments impacting the way individuals communicate and experience life. Teenagers are using these sites more than any other age bracket. In fact, a recent study indicated that at least 92% of American teenagers access a minimum of one social media site everyday. Because the majority of teens are using social media, it is more than probable that your teen is as well, making it so important for you to not only be informed about the sites themselves, but also how you can help your child remain safe in this high-tech world.

What is Social Media?

Social media is a collective term that includes various websites and Internet applications used to share content, create communities of like-minded individuals, and socially connect and interact with other people online.

Some examples of popular social media websites are:

Facebook – Founded in 2004 and originally meant for just university students, Facebook is now the world’s most popular social networking website; it allows any individual with an email address to sign up and connect with friends, family, peers, and virtually anyone from around the world who is also registered with the site; Facebook users can share updates on what they are doing, who they are with, and how they are feeling; users can also share photos and videos; no one under the age of 13 is allowed to use this site (of course there are plenty of ways to circumvent this, and kids figure it out all the time).

Twitter – Created in 2006, Twitter is an online social networking site that allows users to share short messages called “tweets” with others who follow their personal Twitter account; users are also able to read other’s tweets, and respond.

Instagram – Launched in 2010, Instagram is an online mobile sharing application where users share photos and videos along with “hashtag” descriptions; Instagram users can “follow” other users, and comment on their photos and videos.

Snapchat – Created in 2011, Snapchat is a mobile application where users can send and receive photos with text; these photos essentially self-destruct or disappear within seconds of the recipient viewing the photo;

Benefits of Social Media Use

  • Connection Teens can connect with anyone, from anywhere around the world, which makes it easier to stay in touch with family and friends.
  • Entertainment Social media sites allow teens to play fun games and watch interesting videos, serving as an often positive means for entertainment (when used appropriately).
  • Education Teens can become “friends” with scholastic organizations such as the Smithsonian or National Geographic, which provide fantastic educational information and encourage interest in other cultures and subjects.
  • Emotional Outlet Adolescence is frequently a difficult time for many children. Many changes, both physically and emotionally, often leaves teenagers feeling confused, isolated, and alone. Social media can prove to be a beneficial way to express feelings and connect with others that they may have not communicated with otherwise.

Dangers of Social Media Use

  • Increased Anxiety Being a part of social media means you are essentially available 24/7. The drive to constantly check social media sites and respond to posts and messages quickly becomes ingrained and habitual, especially in teenagers’ impressionable minds. If that does not produce enough pressure and anxiety alone, social media can also create the difficult feeling of “missing out”. Kids are able to see what all their friends and peers are doing on an ongoing basis, and not being included can be especially anxiety provoking.
  • Sleep Disturbance Research has shown that anyone (not just teens!) who logs on to social media in the evening hours is more susceptible to sleep disturbance. The reasons behind this, while not yet scientifically pinpointed, indicate many social media users access these sites while in bed. This means they are most likely sleeping with their phone or tablet near the bed, making it easy to be awoken by any notification (and the subsequent “ping” or other noise) that might come through from a social media site.
  • Internet Predators Social media sites are constantly asking users to enter birthdays, hometowns, email addresses, and other personal information. If your teen is doing this, they instantly make themselves an easy target for online predators or other individuals who might want to cause them harm.
  • Cyberbullying Of course bullying existed before the internet and social media, yet with the advent of sites like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, bullying has become a lot more user-friendly so to say. Anyone can be a bully from behind the safety of a computer screen, increasing its’ occurrence significantly.
  • Comparing Social media is a place to share your life. Yet, many people tend to only put the “best” parts of their life on sites like Facebook or Instagram. This tendency often leads to everyone’s life looking like some wonderful vacation or party. Teens already compare themselves to peers regarding looks, grades, and popularity. Social media is just another place that breeds comparison.
  • Pictures Are Forever Teens tend to post pictures of themselves, especially if they are having a good time or at a party. Teens probably are not thinking about the potential ramifications of these pictures (even years down the line) or the fact that these pictures are public property once on the internet.
  • Sexually Explicit Material From pictures, to posts, to videos, it does not take long to find easily accessible sexually explicit material on websites like Facebook and Twitter.

How to Protect Your Teen

Listing the potential dangers of social media use most likely instilled some fear in you if you have a teenager who is actively engaged in these websites. Your first instinct may be to demand your teen’s passwords, examine their profiles and personal pages, and immediately sign them off social media forever. That would solve the problem, but might create other problems in you and your child’s relationship. Using other approaches to protect your teen from the dangers of social media might allow them to continue using the websites while staying safe and keeping their information secure.

Education

Educate yourself first, before you try to educate your teen on the dangers of social media and how they can protect themselves. Be aware of not only the dangers, but also about the social media sites in general. It is important to know how they work, and what their function is. This way, you can speak to your child in language they will understand.

Once you are educated about social media sites, you can approach your child. There are some important points to hit when teaching your teen how to be safe on social media sites:

  • Privacy settings – educate your teen on the various privacy options on social media sites. To safeguard your teen and provide them with the most security, make sure your child’s privacy settings are on the strictest level. Click here for further information about Facebook privacy settings and policies.
  • Online Reputation – teach your teen about the permanency of their “online footprint”; explain how inappropriate photos, messages, and/or videos last forever on the Internet and can affect them later in life (like when applying to college or for a job position).
  • Online Dangers – education around the dangers of social media may seem like you are using a scare tactic, but do it anyways; it is better they be scared than uninformed. A comprehensive list of online dangers can be found here.

Set Ground Rules

It is OK to have rules around all use of technology, especially when it comes to social media use. Let your child know the reason behind the rules (to keep them safe!). Sit down with your child and come up with ground rules together. This way your teen will feel involved, and like they have some control over their social media activity. Also, alert your child to the consequences they will experience if the rules are broken. Creating a contract is often an effective way to approach setting ground rules and consequences. See an example here.

Monitor Your Teen

Know what social media sites your child uses and what applications they have downloaded on his or her cellphone, tablet, or computer. Ask them to show you their profiles on these sites so you can stay privy to what photos and/or videos your child is uploading. Making things more complicated is the fact that friends and peers can upload photos/videos of your teen as well. Encourage your teen to take down things that you may feel are inappropriate.

Be A Good Example

In this day and age, it is not just your child using social media. Chances are you use some of these sites as well. Technology can be addictive, and if you do not want your teen to become obsessive about his or her social media, you should steer away from becoming preoccupied with yours. Set a good example by using social media in moderation.

Keep the Computer Out of Your Teen’s Bedroom

It is almost impossible to keep tabs on your child’s social media use if the computer is in their bedroom. So, a good compromise if your child wants to remain on social media, is for them to move the computer to a common area in the home. The kitchen or family rooms are potential good options.

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