Social media is a fun and exciting way for teens to chat, share problems, tell jokes, and generally hang out with mates after school without leaving the house. Yet we also know that being on social media makes teens vulnerable to things like cyber-bullying, harassment, and predatory behaviour.
So how can we give our teens the freedom and enjoyment that comes from connecting on social media and still keep them safe? Here’s how:
1. Become their friend
It’s got to be the number one condition for teens being allowed to set up a social media account: they have to friend you. OK, so they might hate the idea but let them know you’re not going to like or comment on any of their posts, and you’re not checking up on them, it’s just your job to make sure any environment they are in is safe–and that includes online ones.
2. Establish an age requirement to start using social media
They’ll probably start pestering you for their own social media as soon as they get their own iPad or phone, but set a firm age limit–and stick to it. Happily, until they’re 13, you can blame the law, but wait a couple of years, just let them know so they have something to look forward to.
3. Stay on top of privacy settings
Privacy settings are not a set-and-leave proposition. Social media sites regularly add and update security settings so you’ll need to regularly check-in to see if there’s more you can do to protect your kids (and that those sneaky rascals haven’t found a way to reverse the ones you’ve set up).
4. Keep your child’s profile private
Make sure the kids’ social media is set to private. This means that only people who your child is friends will see the content on their profile. You can take this one step further and tell them they have to ask before they accept or send friend requests, but good luck with that.
5. Never communicate with people you don’t know
This can be hard because kids are naturally trusting, but your child needs to know this truth: people are not always the person in their profile pic. So that means no chatting with strangers on social media games or groups, and no accepting friend requests from people they don’t know–even if that kid looks really cool and loves Roblox too.
5. Educate them about choosing what to share
Some things were never meant to be shared on social media and it’s important that you make sure your kids know them. Phone numbers, addresses, information about when you’ll be away from the house on holidays are all no-nos, but you may want to add more.
6. Set rules around photos
Teens may think they know everything but sometimes photos taken with the best intentions can lead to nasty results. Suggestive or explicit images are a no-go zone, but photos showing that cute new bathing suit or picture of them in a school uniform where the school is identifiable can also lead to danger.
7. Talk, talk and then talk some more
Regularly check in with your child and ask them about what’s happening on social media. Who’s doing what; who’s friends with who; anything funny that happened; anything bad? Keep the communication open, listen and be supportive. Leave the door open to them feeling comfortable to tell you if someone is teasing or harassing them as those could be signs of cyber-bullying.