1. Get to know this technology. By participating in social media yourself, you will discover the various benefits of these forums. You can learn first-hand about how these areas are used and monitored. As you are just beginning to learn about social media, it is OK to just logon, read, and watch. Once you get more comfortable with this form of communication, then you may want to start “talking.” Be aware of ever-changing privacy settings to keep both you and your child’s posted information as secure as possible.
2. Know what your family owns. Don’t forget that online communities are not just on the computer anymore. Limits, privacy settings, and appropriate use applies to all devices that can get on the web. These include cell phones, NintendoDS systems, Wii, XBox, PS3, iPads, iPods and other mp3 players, cameras, watches… you get the idea. Do you know the privacy settings and parental controls for all this hardware? Do you have any additional protective software (Net-Nanny, PureSight) to help control content?
3. Keep your family computer in a common family room, not in children’s bedrooms. In fact, anything that can access the internet does not belong in a child’s room.
4. Learn about the importance of your child’s digital footprint.
5. Get online with your kids. Early. I have kids in my practice as young as 5-years-old involved with online gaming and social spaces. As soon as your child is online, you have an obligation to begin navigating and demonstrating appropriate behavior. Look here for age-appropriate media exposures, discussion points, and suggestions for limits.
6. Once your child is involved online, routinely ask questions. Where did you go online today? What’s that? What is something cool you have found? Who are you talking with online? What are your favorite sites? Does your friend have a Facebook page? How does she use it? What are you having to do online for school?
7. No Facebook/MySpace until 13 year old. For details about why the age of 13 years is legally significant, please see the AAP report. Allowing your child to join age-restricted spaces prior to reaching the required age promotes false entitlement and unethical behavior.
8. If your child is on Facebook, you need to be a “friend.” Period. No negotiation. If you child is on Twitter, you need to become a Tweep. And so on, and so on. If your child knows that you have access to an online social space they will more likely be careful about what they post. I would not recommend, however, posting anything on your teen’s wall or comment on their status updates. Comments from “mom” in social spaces generally cause earth-shattering teen embarrassment.
9. Watch out for the “cyberbully.” In my practice, I have seen victims of cyberbullying and online harassment. From being called inappropriate names via text, to being victims of identity theft and verbally threatened; it is out there. Know what to watch for in your child if they are a victim. Most schools have policies protecting kids from cyberbullys, make sure your kids know how to report a concern. Have consequences in place if your child is found being the bully.
10. Discuss what your kids should never post online including, foul language, rude comments,private information, or illicit photos (read this shocking story from the NY Times about an 8th grader.) In addition, teach your child to avoid pop-up ads, giveaways, and online contests.
11. Don’t freak out if kids bring you/ask about/show you inappropriate content. If your child is uncomfortable by something they see online, they should tell you about it. Keeping these lines of communication open is important. Developers and promoters of illicit material are tricky, as are individuals with sour intent. Ask your kids how they got to the site in question, follow the trail, and block it.
12. Watch for signs of “Facebook depression” in involved teens.This is a new phenomenon we are starting to see in our kids as a consequence of their online involvement. How can parents prevent? Set limits. Set limits. Set limits.
13. Set your limits. Do you notice a common theme, here? Boundaries should include time of day, total amount of time, the places in which using this technology is appropriate or inappropriate (social settings, family time, family dinner, doctors appointments.) SM should be after homework and other home responsibilities are completed.
14. Remind your kids often that SM/digital communication is a privilege. If your child is found to be using these spaces unreliably or irresponsibly, their access should be restricted and/or eliminated.
15. Example good behaviors. Kids learn by watching us. If we are unable to put down our cell phones to communicate with others, then you are teaching inappropriate behavior by example. If you are unable to restrict your own computer time, expect a battle when you try to restrict your teen’s time. For advice on how parents need to control their online use, click here.
Please read this fantastic post by Dr. Michele Borba that includes age-appropriate, practical tips on how to monitor your child online.
For even more information, Dr. O’Keefe has authored a very informative book called CyberSafe (Amazon affiliate link) that you may want to check out.
I know this post may seem a little overwhelmed with links, but that is because the demand for this information is high. Take some time with these resources so you can learn about social media, and do what is best for your family. Get ready for an adventure!