How many parents who don’t hold a driver’s licence would attempt to teach their kids to drive? Would you teach your kid to ride a bicycle if you’d never been on one?
Social media is a well-entrenched reality in the lives of most kids. They’re accessing platforms like Facebook and Twitter from increasingly younger ages. As levels of computer and smartphone literacy also expand these platforms take in broader and younger demographics.
As with anything that can be risky for kids, experts in children’s behaviour always advise you to
keep lines of communications open. This ensures your kids feel they can talk to you about their activity at any time.
But with social media, many parents may find their kids are talking a totally different language. ‘Hey mum, someone’s using an avatar I don’t recognise to post nasty trolling in my timeline.’ Hello?
Be Familiar With Each Platform
One of the first things you need to do is install every single application your child is using on your own phone. You don’t have to use them actively, but you need to know how they work so you can talk about them with your kids. How can you expect your kids to come to you and ask advice about their Facebook privacy settings if you don’t even know what a Facebook privacy setting is?
Without understanding the difference between Twitter and Instagram, for instance, it will always be difficult for your kids to be able to talk to you about what they’re doing online, let alone seek your guidance and input.
Recognise Social Media Over-Dependence
If you’re concerned about an over-dependence on social media, there are two ways you can approach the problem.
The first is to monitor your child’s data usage on their smartphone or laptop. This will give you some insight into how much time they’re spending on the internet or internet-reliant platforms. If a kid has access to Wi-Fi in the house or at school, there are settings on the iPhone that will tell you how much data it has used. This is irrespective of where that internet allowance is coming from – i.e. your mobile phone plan, your home broadband or from school Wi-Fi.
The second is to sit down and reach some agreements on viable parameters for when and how social-media usage is appropriate. Simply banning your kids from social media will not work. There are too many alternatives, like using a mate’s phone or accessing the free internet at the local library or at their school.
The Parent Guides Social Media 101 Family Technology Agreement is a helpful tool.
Social media isn’t all bad. It can provide a wealth of knowledge and social connections to your kids. The key here is understanding, education and safety.
It is a parent’s responsibility to educate themselves about social media. This is so they can continue to assist and support their kids in what is a brave, but not so new, world. Who knows, you might even have some fun along the way!
Understand the Power and Danger of Images on Social Media
There has been much publicity recently around sexting. These inappropriate photos taken by teens of themselves and others can easily find their way onto social-media platforms.
If there is a number-one rule of the internet, it’s this. Whether you’re talking about photos or text: there is no such thing as “delete”.
It only takes one second to screenshot what you can see on any device. Once an image has been propagated across multiple social-media channels, it can be a tricky, expensive or sometimes impossible to have those images suppressed or removed.
Secondly, there are serious security issues around photos taken with smartphones and uploaded online. This stretches beyond just embarrassment or next-day regret.
For instance, photos taken on smartphones often contain data which is available to experienced investigators. This data can show where and when the photo was taken. It also means that with the right tools, a predator or troublemaker could potentially glean your suburb or your child’s school from a photo taken and uploaded to Facebook.
Understanding smartphones, devices and their settings and shortcomings can be as important as understanding the platforms themselves.
Isabelle Oderberg is a social-media consultant and is former national social-media editor for News Corp. She now works in the not-for-profit sector. www.isabelleoderberg.me