2015-02 Social Media
In this day and age, it seems like we can't go one minute without hearing about a humorous post on Facebook, or a celebrity that just made an interesting Tweet. That's fine, but what about the things that our children are posting, Tweeting, SnapChatting, blogging, or texting? This is where things can get out of control. Social media is a great tool, and a terrible burden all at the same time. This article will discuss some tips for parents to ensure children are using social media in an appropriate and safe manner.
Social media can help us connect with friends and family from afar. It can allow us to network with contacts for our professional lives, and it can keep us up-to-date on the latest news and trends. These are all great conveniences. The level of integration that social media has in our society means that it's hard to avoid altogether. When you visit a restaurant, how often do you see "Like us on Facebook!" somewhere on their menu? When you go to a store, it wouldn't be uncommon to see "Follow us on Twitter!" in their window. With that said, I'm going to be realistic and not just tell you "avoid social media like the plague." However, I believe the keys to properly having social media involved with your children are: moderation and monitoring. Let's discuss those two points in more detail.
Moderation. There's a time and place for social media. With all the available apps for smartphones, it's easy to get drawn into the different features and lose track of time. Set time limits for your children on when and where they are allowed to use their phones/tablets/computers or other devices. I understand that, in the time that we live, it is socially acceptable for children to have phones at a young age. Having a phone and living on a phone are two different things, however. Children need to understand that having a phone is a privilege, not a right. When you set rules for the phone (notice I said "when" and not "if"), stick to your word. If they violate your rules, you can take away the phone until they can prove they'll use it properly again. That's right, I'll say that again...you can take away the phone until you've decided otherwise. Your son or daughter will survive without their phone. They may paint a picture to you about how losing their phone will cause them to be unable to stay in touch with their friends, losing track of their lives, and spiraling out of control into complete social isolation and rejection. This will not actually happen. You may not be their favorite person for a while, but we need to remember who is in control of the device. The bottom line here is that we need to educate our children that browsing the web and using social media is OK, but it needs to be done in moderation and not as a central point of their lives.
Monitoring. Aside from keeping social media from consuming our children's lives, the next – and perhaps most important – point I have is to be vigilant and monitor your child's usage. I encourage that you do research on the phone your children have, and then learn about the operating system as well. All of the "big three" phone operating systems (iOS, Android, and Windows Phone) have the feature to set restrictions (i.e. parental controls). You can, in some cases, restrict certain apps from being used, set the types of content that are allowed to be viewed on the phone (i.e. explicit movies, music, etc.), set whether certain features can/cannot be altered (such as preventing someone from changing when cellular data is used), and many other options. Even if you set these restrictions, which is a great start, you still need to be involved in your child's life to make sure you understand what they're doing on their phone. This brings us back to the concept that the phone is a privilege for your child. They need to understand this and realize that if they abuse it, they will lose it. Having an agreement with them about transparency will keep mutual respect between you and your child, which will help you both be happy. The child will have their phone, and you will know what they're doing on it.
Social media can be a fun thing, but it needs to be understood, because it isn't harmless. Predators often use social media to portray themselves as a young teenager looking for new friends. With the variety of images available on the internet, it's relatively quick and easy to create a fake profile page, or user account on most social media apps, or websites. Ensuring transparency of your child's devices not only helps you monitor what they are doing, but also what others are doing. Don't be afraid to question, "Who is this person?" because you don't recognize a name. Many times, your instincts are right; it's not a local friend, it's someone they met on the internet. You would truly be amazed to learn how many children actually end up finding ways to meet with these strangers from the internet. It happens every day, and it has happened locally.
When it comes to investigating issues with social media, it can be very hit-and-miss when it comes to success. This isn't because we don't have the tools to track people, but because certain apps are actually designed to allow anonymity. Ten years ago, texting was the latest and greatest thing to do with phones. Texting is easily tracked, even if the texts are deleted. In certain circumstances, we are able to get records from the service provider to determine the content of the messages. However, with some of the apps out there today, it is much more difficult to find the source. There are apps, such as Yik Yak, for example, that allow you to anonymously post messages that are available to view by all people in a certain geographical area. Another app, SnapChat, allows you to send photos or short videos that essentially "self-destruct" after a certain number of seconds. In this app, the only way to save the content is to take a screenshot while viewing the photos/videos. If you don't take a screenshot, it can be lost forever. I'm sure you can imagine how this makes it difficult, from the investigative perspective, regarding tracking and holding people accountable. Oh – and the usernames don't have to have any relevancy to your personal identity at all, further encouraging anonymity. This is why it is important to question what your child is doing on their device and to stay proactive with monitoring them. In the school setting, we often deal with a number of apps (SnapChat probably fueling the most incidents of all) that cause harassing, annoying, and threatening behaviors between students. Often times, these are issues that are happening outside of school, but end up getting reported to the school.
There are so many different apps that this article could stretch as long as the entire paper, but that wouldn't be very practical. Instead, I encourage parents to research the latest trends in apps and learn what their children are using. Keep an open line of communication between you and your child on what they're doing with their phone/tablet/computer or other device. Nothing should be a secret from you when it comes to these devices, and you should never be afraid to inspect it yourself.
If you have questions or feedback on anything – not just social media – that you'd like to contact me about, please feel free to contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 920-849-2811. I would also appreciate hearing about successful strategies that you have implemented to keep your child using social media in an appropriate and safe manner.