Social media is an enjoyable, helpful tool that can enable you to keep in touch with family and friends. Young people will often communicate over social media when working on group assignments or organising events. They can also use it to help each other with homework or studies, so it can be a beneficial tool for your child’s education.
As with all technology, there are advantages and disadvantages that come with the use of social media. It can be a significant distraction for children and teens, and can lead to significant time-wasting. Cyber bullying is also a serious problem that is experienced by many young social media users.
It is important for you to find the balance for your family and establish boundaries, so that your child can enjoy the positives while limiting the negatives of using social media.
Appropriate social media use will depend on the age of your child. As the platforms available are constantly changing, it is important to re-evaluate what is appropriate for your family at frequent intervals.
Here are our top six recommended social media guidelines to keep your children safe and happy online:
1. Don’t let your children start too early
Teens, tweens and even children are exposed to the internet from an early age, and parents may feel pressured to allow their children to set up social media accounts before the recommended age. The internet and social media are amazing tools, however they also contain material that is inappropriate for young eyes. Ensure you adhere to the minimum age requirements for social media – for most, this is age 13.
2. Ensure their settings keep what is private, private
When setting up social media accounts it is worth sitting down with your children to ensure they understand what other people will and won’t be able to see. It is important that social media accounts are set up to be private, so that only people connected to, and known by your children, can see their posts and images. Facebook for example, asks different questions about the information you are willing to share on your profile and gives you the opportunity to adjust different privacy parameters. It is also worthwhile checking that your children’s Instagram accounts are set to private so only people known to them can see their photos.
3. Talk to them about stranger danger
Social media is, in some ways, a digital representation of the real world. That means stranger danger is still an issue, but unlike the real world, you are unable to see the strangers. Talk to your children about what to do if strangers try to add, follow or message them, and explain why you want them to block, rather than accept or just ignore strangers (blocking them alerts the platform, whereas ignoring them does not). Also, explain that it is very easy for strangers online to look like someone they are not. Whilst many teenagers these days are quite switched on to what is and isn’t real, there are some very convincing profiles that can lure in unsuspecting teens.
4. Restrict their time on social media
It is easy to while away the hours when on social media. Setting time limits is a great way to reduce screen time and ensure that your family remains connected. Set a good example for your children by modelling appropriate behaviour yourself - try not to use social media when your children are around. Instead, engage your children in conversation about their day, their school work and their friends – this is not only good for family bonding, it may turn up issues that have been concerning your child (such as cyber-bullying, or unusual online friend requests), allowing you to address them together.
5. Encourage them to think before they post
Once a comment, image or post is live, it is very difficult to erase completely. Yes, you can delete posts but in those seconds it is live, others can read it, save it, screen shot it, and share it. It is also worth noting that some social media sites will store information until the entire account is deleted. Try to reinforce that anything posted today, may impact on your child’s future. Employers will often look at a potential employee’s social media profile as it gives an insight into their personality, which may not be apparent in an interview.
Another reason it is important for your child to be careful online is that it can be very easy to hurt people. Without body language and visual cues, a seemingly harmless discussion could actually be quite hurtful to the person receiving the message. Far too often things are dismissed as a joke, however social media is unfortunately the easiest place for cyber bullying to eventuate. Make sure your child feels comfortable enough to talk to you if he or she is being bullied. Similarly, if you think your child is displaying bullying behaviour, address it and explain why it’s a concern.
6. Trust your child
At the end of the day, you can’t control everything your child does or sees online. Take the time to talk with your children and enforce reasonable rules. The next step is to trust them. A degree of freedom will help your children to take responsibility for their actions and safety online.
Social media, when used sensibly, is a great tool for learning and socialising. By making sure your children are responsible on the internet, you can minimise the risks and help them enjoy their time online.
Trinity Grammar School is proud to be an eSmart school. eSmart is an initiative of the Alannah & Madeline Foundation, that uses a cultural change approach to improve cyber safety and reduce cyber bullying. To learn more about the Trinity difference and how we can assist your son to realise his potential, passions and purpose in life, take a look at our Trinity in Action videos.