For previous generations of parents, keeping in touch with a child’s social life simply meant meeting a child’s friends when they stopped by the house or called on the phone. With the advent of the internet and the explosion of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram, keeping a watchful eye on the social world of today’s kids has become a challenge.
The definition of a “friend” has become much broader for today’s teens and tweens. A friend isn’t just the kid next door or the peer at school or at practice. Friends on social media can be located across the globe. As friendship definitions become looser and less defined, so, too, does the understanding of boundaries for children and teens.
Social media has expanded the world of friendship so much that it’s easy for many parents to feel lost in the sea of shared pictures, tweets and constant updates. Kids can easily manipulate the social media intricacies because their knowledge of the virtual social world is usually beyond that of their parents.
However, parents don’t need to feel lost in the crazy maze of social media platforms. Today’s parents simply need to educate themselves about the popular platforms that their children use to communicate with friends.
Understanding and demystifying the social media world goes hand-in-hand with experience. Here are 10 ways for parents to stay involved in their child or teen’s online social world:
1. Log on.
Start an account on the same social platforms your child uses. Facebook has fallen out of favor with teens, but, chances are, most teens still have a profile on Facebook. Check out Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, Kik, Yik Yak and YouTube. Some apps, like Yik Yak, are anonymous.
Regardless of how each app sets up membership, explore each one. Get a feel for each social media world and how it enables communication. By exploring, understanding and even using each app, parents can open discussions with their children about the pros and cons of social media platforms to help decide which apps are acceptable within the family.
2. Make Family Time a Priority.
Many parents feel that social media pulls children away from the family unit. To feel in control of a child’s social world, parents need to be involved. Set a time each day to talk as a family. Discuss school, worries, concerns or just funny things that might have happened. Use the time to also ask about friends; find out who they sit by at lunch and even who they don’t like. Family dinner time is a great opportunity to ensure that everyone sits together to share and discuss the day.
3. Set Parental Controls and Monitor.
Sit down with children and teens to set-up restrictions to ensure that inappropriate content is blocked on all social media sites. Set a rule that all internet history is to be saved until a parent clears the history. This should include PCs and mobile devices. Parents who are overly concerned about internet behaviors may also utilize monitoring software.
4. Set Boundaries for Information Sharing.
Discuss what information is safe to share and send and what is not safe. Make rules for what defines personal information. Discuss the types of pictures that can and cannot be sent over social media. You can help your child set up privacy settings to ensure their identity is protected.
5. Follow and Friend.
Parents should be connected to kids on social media whenever possible. Allow social media to be another form of communication with a child instead of a road block that divides the parent and child relationship.
6. Create a Friendship Standard.
Some online friends are simply not friendship material. Set a definition of friendship in the home and online. Insist tweens and younger children ask permission before friending anyone. Instruct all children to tell a parent (or another trusted adult) if anyone sends them threatening or inappropriate messages or photos.
7. Limit Social Media Use.
Time limits should be set for the household when it comes to social media use. Ideally, all children and teens should limit screen time to one or two hours a day. Make boundaries clear when social media use is not allowed—such as during dinner, family vacations, etc.
8. Use Maturity To Guide App Use.
Usually apps have age limits; for many apps—including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat—the minimum age to sign up is 13. Teens only need to be 17 to have an account on the dating app Tinder. Parents should discuss what age they feel is appropriate for each app. While some teens are responsible enough to Snapchat at age 13, many might not be mature enough to handle the app. Research apps and set limits accordingly.
9. Social media is a privilege.
When teens begin to learn to drive, they learn from DMV guidebooks that “driving is a privilege not a right.” Like driving, social media is a privilege. If the privilege is abused and if the rules of the house are not followed, then devices can be taken away and apps can be deleted. Parents should always hold the keys to the internet’s social highway.
10. Ban secret passwords.
Like age limits for apps, password privacy should vary based on the maturity of the child. Set an age when a teen can begin to hold passwords in confidence, but teach younger children that passwords are absolutely not private. Parents should remain in control of account access during the younger preteen and early teen years. Work with kids to create passwords that only a parent and a child know. Always instruct kids and teens to never tell friends their passwords or passcodes.
With these tips, parents can be more involved in their child’s social media life. In the end, by discussing these rules openly and honestly with your child–you can protect them from the dangers of social media while still enjoying communicating with their friends.