Moms and dads, we’re ignorant and clueless.
A 2013 survey done by Internet security company, McAfee, revealed more than 80 percent of U.S. parents say they don’t have the time or energy to keep up with what their children are doing online, and only 9 percent say they know how to find out.
It’s time for us to learn what’s going on.
Whether we like it or not, social media are a major part of our kids’ lives. It’s the way they communicate with each other, establish their identity, learn about the world, and unfortunately, hurt others or get hurt themselves.
Social media use among tweens and teens is not inherently bad; however, it can be risky and thus requires a lot of ground rules and parental supervision. The arguments about respecting your kid’s privacy do not apply in a cyber-world that allows them instant access to dangerous or inappropriate online content and gives instant access to predators and others who wish them harm. Parents MUST be ever-present and vigilant in their kids’ virtual and physical worlds.
As a blogger, I use social media extensively to engage my readers. Most of the time, the engagement is positive and contributes to great dialogues about issues I address on Roadkill Goldfish. However, it can sometimes get nasty and downright dangerous when punk commenters leave hate-filled remarks and threats against me and my family. Yes, it happens quite often, and yes, I do fight back.
As a parent, I could not imagine willingly subjecting my kids to the vulgarity and vitriol I often encounter on social media, but they and their peers face that risk every time they log on to Instagram, Twitter and other apps. It happens all the time, Mom and Dad. A simple search of video game hacks on YouTube pulls up porn in the “suggested video” list. Self-esteem gets destroyed because a classmate’s selfie generates hundreds of likes and “you’re pretty” comments, but your daughter’s selfie only generates a few thumbs up.
Welcome to our kids’ world.
Parents, it’s time to get our heads out of the sand. You may think your child is safely using these media, or you may have ruled that your kids are not allowed to use them at all. I’m sorry to be the one to break this to you, but if you’ve selected either option for your family, statistics say you have already failed. That same 2013 McAfee survey revealed 58 percent of kids say they know how to keep their online use a secret, and 25 percent admitted they had cleared or hidden what they’ve done online.
However, all is not lost. There are a few easy things we can do to help our kids navigate these dangerous waters. They include:
Check out the social media outlets your kids are using.
Research shows today’s kids are leaving the adult-favorite Facebook and are moving to platforms that parents don’t use. These include the teen-popular Instagram, Twitter, Vine and Tumblr. Unfortunately, these particular sites and apps have very limited privacy features and ineffective content reporting. Parental review organizations such as CommonSenseMedia.org reveal these popular platforms have major issues with pervasive sexual content, cyber-bullying, depictions of violence and offensive language.
Teach your kids to protect themselves from cyber-bullying.
Whenever possible, set all social media privacy controls to PRIVATE and disable tagging on all photos. You can also proactively block people from your profile whom you suspect will behave inappropriately, and you should immediately block the ones that sneak through the cracks. You can also report these punks. Many platforms allow you to report bullying, obscenity, pornography and other inappropriate content. Sites like Facebook have the best record for acting on these reports, but the response from others can be notoriously slow. If a situation becomes threatening, report it to legal authorities and DO NOT ALLOW your child to go back online until things have blown over. Take away their devices!
Set ground rules.
Social media use is a privilege, not a right. Make sure your child knows what you consider appropriate and inappropriate for online sharing. Some of the basics include:
- “Friend” only the people you know in real life.
- Never give your full name for online accounts.
- Never give out personally identifiable information such as your address, phone number, where you go to school or where you’ll be.
- Never go out to physically meet someone you met online.
- Require all social media use to be done in a public room; don’t let them spend hours in their bedrooms with unsupervised access.
- Periodically check out who they follow and who follows them.
Constantly talk to your children about social media and regularly check their devices.
This is not a one-time conversation; you must keep the lines of communication open with your child, reiterate the ground rules often, and regularly talk about what they’ve seen and done online. My kids HATE this, but I do spot checks on their phones, iPods and other devices so I can review what they’re doing directly on the device. We’ve had several “teachable moments” from these reviews. Having your kids’ passwords or “friending” them online is not effective because kids can easily hide their activity from you or set up dummy accounts.
Be aware of the riskiest platforms, REMOVE them from your child’s devices and block them from App Store download.
All social media are not created equal when it comes to safety and common sense. Platforms such as Kik (texting with social media), SnapChat (“time-limited” photo and video sharing), Tinder (hook-up app that introduces you to nearby users), and Ask.fm (anonymous question and answer app) are especially vile and risky for tweens and teens.
Do you want to learn more about social media?
Kim Keller of Roadkill Goldfish* regularly teaches seminars on Social Media 101 that are designed to help adults learn about today’s social media platforms and their legal and ethical issues such as cyber-bullying, sexting and First Amendment rights (which can often be wrong with social media). She also shares the “how-to” information on setting controls for the most popular social media outlets.
The 60-minute presentation, which can be adapted for teens and tweens, is perfect for PTAs, parent groups, churches and many others.
- Check out who recommends Kim. (Spoiler: Dr. Laura and others are on this list.)
- Submit a speaking request to book Kim for an upcoming event.
*Kim, who is trying to stay sane as the mother of a tween and teenager, has extensive experience in this arena because of her work as a blogger, working journalist and university instructor.