This article was originally shared on Gabb Wireless and is shared here with permission.
Parenting has never been easy, but social media makes a hard job that much more difficult. No matter how much they prepare for it, today’s parents are faced with tough decisions around when and how their kids access platforms like Instagram and Facebook. For those who try to keep their children off of social media entirely, good luck — kids can be very persuasive when arguing for something they want.
In this case, the “everyone else has it” argument actually has some real data behind it: According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 75% of teens ages 13-17 reported having at least one social media account. But just because some parents turn their kids loose online doesn’t mean it’s a smart idea.
If you’re considering letting your teen or tween on the latest social media platform, here are a few tips for keeping them as safe as possible online:
1. Hold off until social maturity
As parents, it’s your job to decide whether your child is ready to handle social media and the pressures, responsibilities and dangers that it can bring. You might not be able to hold your kids off forever, but you can definitely delay their first login. You could look into something like a safe phone for kids like what Gabb offers to tide kids over when they need a phone to communicate with you.
While sites like Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok require users to be at least 13 years of age, some experts recommend that users of social media apps be older than that. They caution that there’s no one-size-fits-all age for safe social media use.
Ultimately, you know your child better than anyone else, much less any set of guidelines, ever could. If you feel your child isn’t quite ready to log onto the latest platform, be transparent about the things they can do to prove their growth and maturity to you. Always have the end goal in sight for them, but don’t let up once they get their first accounts — remember, you have the power to take them away, too.
2. Funnel social media through family devices
When you’re convinced that your teen is ready to take social media for a spin, stipulate that they can only access it on a shared or family device. If they have a smartphone, ask that they don’t download social media apps.
The larger screens and trackable nature of shared devices like laptops, desktops, and tablets can help you keep an eye on your child’s activity as it happens. Restricting access to shared devices can also help ensure that they’re not logged on late into the evening.
3. Give yourself authorized access to the account
As an authorized user on your child’s social media accounts, you’ll be able monitor things you wouldn’t be able to see as a follower. Dangers like child predators are a lot more likely to show up in a private message than in a public post.
While this is something your child will likely push back on, think of it as a pair of training wheels: Once they’ve proven to you that they can act appropriately online, then you can limit your access to their accounts. Not only does this help you keep track of their digital activity, but it also ensures that your child isn’t being scammed, harassed, or bullied by other users.
4. Be picky about posts
When it comes to any kind of technology, parents need to set limits on what their kids can and can’t do. Nowhere is this more important than around what they post online.
The best advice to give your child is to never post something they wouldn’t say or show to their grandparents. If their grandparents aren’t easily offended, replace that noun with “teachers.” While there’s no way to outright ensure that your child will only post appropriately, highlighting anything they do post that makes you uncomfortable can help reinforce boundaries.
5. Forbid interactions with strangers
Parents are often hesitant about social media less because of the behavior of their child and more due to the behavior of others. It’s easy to trust your kids and the decisions they make; it’s the others on these platforms to look out for.
All too often, predators will pose as young teens and try to arrange meetups or photo exchanges with younger, unexpecting kids. For this reason, teach your kid the dangers of meeting strangers on the internet and the importance of not sharing any personal information.
6. Keep passwords private
Kids should know not to let others log into their personal accounts. Not only does sharing passwords increase their chances of being hacked, but doing so with friends could cause serious reputation damage. All it takes is one friend’s irresponsible post to taint your kid’s image online.
Ask that your teen doesn’t share their passwords with anyone but you. If they use a password manager, vet the provider to reduce the chances of your kid’s data being breached.
7. Emphasize kindness
Cyberbullying is one of parents’ biggest concerns when it comes to kids on social media. Adolescents are a sensitive, insecure group in the best of times — they don’t need any assistance from online bullies.
Teach your children to be positive and thoughtful both in the real world and online. If they wouldn’t say something to someone in person, then they shouldn’t be saying it on social media either.
8. Amp up privacy settings
Different platforms have different privacy settings built in. Be sure to go through each of your child’s accounts to maximize their privacy.
Without these settings turned on, others might be able to learn your child’s birthday, location, or personal information just by glancing at their profile. If you feel like you can see too much information when you visit their profiles, then trust your gut. Adjust their account settings or delete the data.
9. Remind them that social media isn’t reality
Your kids shouldn’t believe everything they see online. Remind them that, on social media, everyone presents the very best, photoshopped versions of their bodies, faces, hair, and lives.
Manipulated images can set unrealistic expectations for what your child’s life should look like, distorting their sense of reality in the process. Talk to your child about the importance of focusing on life outside the screen and not putting too much stock in what they see online.
When it comes to your kids’ social media use, you cannot be too cautious. Even once you decide the time is right for them to join these platforms, your job isn’t done. Help them avoid the risks, and while they might not appreciate it now, they’ll thank you later.
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