Teach Your Children Well: A Primer on Responsible Use of Social Media
Have you ever been driving in your car and, when confronted with someone else’s driving, yelled or gestured in a way that you would never act if you were facing that driver person-to-person? Our cars give us a sense of security and anonymity (mostly false, BTW!) that make us behave in ways we ordinarily wouldn’t consider to be part of “polite” society.
The digital world offers our children (not to mention ourselves!) a similar false sense of security and anonymity, and our sweet, dear, kind, considerate children often act out online in ways that would make us cringe in person. And if we’re not paying attention, they get the message that we don’t know, don’t care, and don’t do anything about their digital behavior.
THIS NEEDS TO STOP!
In the role of counselor, things reach me from time to time that aren’t very pleasant. While I have not seen anything this year that would cause me to set off alarms and contact parents, there is an awful lot of bickering, gossiping, backstabbing and insulting behavior going on between our sweet children and their online friends. If we are not monitoring the digital lives of our children, we need to – sooner rather than later!
I spent ten years working in the high school setting, and I saw things online that would make steam come out of your ears. Parents were often shocked and surprised to see the types of things their children were putting out there into the world via social media. While we cannot monitor every single thing our children post until they are safely of adult age, we need to model appropriate relationships with technology, social media, and each other. In the middle school years, this means monitoring your childrens’ cell phones and social media activities!
Many parents feel like they are “spying” on their kids, or that their kids should have their privacy. Two points: would you take your child to a town where you didn’t know anyone and drop them off on their own? The internet is a lot bigger than a town, and it is full of all kinds of people. This doesn’t mean children shouldn’t use the internet, but it DOES mean they shouldn’t use the internet unsupervised until they have gained a level of trust with which you feel comfortable. And the only way to gain this trust is by SEEING how they behave on the internet.
The second point: who is paying for the technology and the data? I’m guessing it’s not the kids. So you have every right to guide them into the world of responsible digital life, and at this age, that means monitoring their activity.
A FEW TIPS
- It is vital to have access to the digital lives of your children. If your child uses a cellphone, iPad, or computer, you must install software that allows you to have access to everything they do with that technology. Read their text messages, look at their posts on Instagram or Facebook, see who they are communicating with, and filter the types of sites to which they have access. There are many programs out there that will give you this type of access, so do your research and pick one as soon as possible. Here are a few popular ones:
- Set clear rules and guidelines about the use of technology. A few examples:
- Never post anything mean, offensive, or embarrassing online.
- Do not accept friend requests from people you don’t know.
- Use the strictest possible privacy settings on every app.
- Do not take surveys, quizzes or questionnaires, and do not enter contests or giveaways. These are often ways for people to gather your private information for questionable uses.
- Enforce reasonable limits on how much time your children are able to spend with their technology, and TAKE YOUR CHILDREN’S CELLPHONES INTO YOUR ROOM AT NIGHT! You can set up a charging station in your room to make it useful, but it’s too tempting for teens to stay up texting at all hours of the night. Enforce a break!
- Model responsible use of technology and proper online etiquette. Our children are watching us, and it is so easy to pay more attention to our phones than our children. And if we are ranting about the latest Facebook outrage to cross our newsfeeds, guess what they’re going to do? Try to limit your own usage when you are with your children, and don’t let technology run your life.
- Teach them about the importance of maintaining an online reputation of integrity and ethical behavior. Once something is posted online, it is out of our control. Foul language, insulting messages, and inappropriate pictures are just a few examples of how one can ruin one’s reputation by forgetting that anything posted to the internet has the potential to be seen by anyone. If you don’t want everyone to see something, don’t publish it online.
There are many excellent resources out there to keep yourself informed about the latest trends in technology and social media. Make gathering information on these topics part of your daily routine, and teach your children how to be responsible citizens of the digital world.
Please let me know if you have further questions, concerns, or comments, as this is a critical dialogue to maintain between parents, students, and school.
Resources for Further Exploration:
WIRED Magazine’s Safety Site
Family Online Safety Institute