It’s hard to imagine a world without social media. Daily we like, follow, share, snap and tweet about our day to friends and family, all from our computers or smartphones. Social media is a great way to keep in contact with people you care about, hear the latest news, find out about events in your area and even help you find a job. But, there is a dark side to social media. In a world where it’s easy to share, it’s also easy for your private information to be compromised or shared with people you didn’t intend to share it with. This is especially scary when thinking about your teenagers. Being a teen is difficult enough, but social media can make it even more scary. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to understand social media networks and help protect your teenagers from making embarrassing mistakes, and also keep them safe from online predators.
1. Become familiar with social networks.
Get to know the social networks your teens are using like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Vine, YouTube and Tumblr. Common Sense Media is a good source of information for keeping up with the latest social media networks and advice from experts on how to approach your teens with difficult topics like sexting.
2. Keep the computer in a public part of your home.
Having the family computer in a high-traffic area with little privacy makes it easier to keep tabs on what your teen is looking at and what their online behaviors are.
3. Check the privacy settings on your teen’s social network.
Make sure these are set so that only close friends and family can see their profiles, particularly their photos and their location. This can be tricky, because many social networks have different defaults set. For example, tweets are set to be public so anyone can see them, unless the you change your settings in your Twitter profile. Tumblr is an open blog, so anyone with the URL of the blog can see it unless you change your visibility settings. For help on how to check and change privacy settings, click below.
4. Teach your teen to protect their password.
Stress the importance of never sharing their password with anyone, even a close friend or sibling. Have them construct a complicated password that is difficult to guess, using numbers, symbols and capital and lower-case letters.
5. Teach your teen about cyberbullying and respecting others.
Sit down with your teen and talk about what language is appropriate online, discourage gossip and stress that if they wouldn’t say it in person, don’t text or post it online. Encourage your teen to report cyberbullying posts, and to talk to a trusted adult if someone they know is cyberbullying or being bullied.
6. “Think Before You Post”.
Tell your teen to, “Think before they post.” It can be tempting to treat social media like an online diary, but it’s a diary that everyone has access to. Even if your profiles are set to private, followers can screenshot what you post, even if the post has been deleted, there could be a record of it—things don’t disappear forever once they’ve been posted online. Everything can be shared with the entire world. S
7. Teach your teen to not engage in “sexting.”
Stress the importance of refraining from “sexting”—sharing sexually explicit photos or texts. Address the potential consequences of sharing electronic images or texts—There are personal and legal consequences, especially if your teen is under the age of 18. Make sure to talk openly to your teen about this, but remain friendly and open so your child feels comfortable talking to you about this, or letting you know if they’re feeling pressure from friends or significant others to engage in inappropriate behavior.
8. Lay some ground rules.
Don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know
- Limit the amount of time spent on social media
- No in-person meetings
- No using the phone and driving
- Make them sign a contract saying they will honor these rules. Here is an example from the Family Online Safety Institute.
Lastly, it’s a good idea to be a positive example of how to behave online. Refrain from posting rants about your latest trip to the supermarket on your Facebook and don’t reach for your phone while driving, even if you’re only going to quickly check one thing.
With a little effort and education on your part, you can feel more at-ease when you see your teen snapping, tweeting and gramming—knowing that they’re social media savvy and conscious of what they are posting and sharing.