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Managing Kids and Social Media: Three Takeaways for Parents

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By the time our children are in middle school (even before), many start asking about joining social media. While most social media sites don’t allow children younger than 13 to sign up, that doesn’t keep kids from asking, “Can I get an Instagram account?”

So where do you begin in making sure your kids aren’t behaving badly on Snapchat or posting something inappropriate on Facebook? Here are three takeaways to get started on the right foot down the social media path with your children.

Establish Trust

Just like talking about personal safety with your children starts at an early age — “Don’t talk to strangers” — it is essential that parents begin discussing the internet early on. Our children are immersed in technology at a very early age, both at home and at school. So the more you talk to them about being a good digital citizen, the better.

As they become curious about social media, those early conversations will lay the foundation for healthy and appropriate online behavior. Whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or YouTube, show your child how each application works and its purpose. Demonstrate how you manage your own online life responsibly by only posting things you are comfortable sharing with the world and ensuring your account is set to private. Explain to your child how they can block users who they don’t want seeing their information. Most importantly, be sure they understand they can only have the account if they are connected with you, their parents, so you can keep an eye out — just like you did when they learned to cook or ride a bike.

Ride the Wave of Change

New social media applications are released all the time: first it was Facebook, then Twitter, Instagram and of course, Snapchat. That means parents need to learn how all of these platforms work in order to keep track of your child’s social media life.

Unfortunately, there’s no real way to “check the box” on this task because the apps are always adding new features. What happens when Instagram adds Stories and now, aside from just posting pictures, your child is creating a highlight reel about every detail of their day? By maintaining an ongoing conversation with your kids and checking in on their online behavior from time to time, you will be able to keep up with any major changes.

Even as apps add new features, kids are finding alternative ways to use the apps. Your child may have already set up a “finsta” account, also known as a “fake Instagram” account, without your knowledge. This is a separate account, with a different handle (or name), used to share more unfiltered (less polished or curated) content with a group of close friends, in private. This is where building, and maintaining, the foundation of core social media values and behavior with your child come into play. Be sure to ask them about finsta and inquire further about what they are posting and to whom.

“Everyone Else is Doing It”

When the newest social media penetrates the App Store or Google Play and your child wants in because “Everyone else is doing it,” why do they really want it? Inquire further about the new social media app, what your child plans on doing with it and with whom they’ll be communicating on it.

Don’t fall for the “Everyone is doing it” pressure. Consider whether your child is a fit for this kind of social media and talk about it with them. Parents and children should make conscientious decisions about whether to start with a new social media app and then periodically re-evaluate the decision.

Social media can be tough to navigate as a parent and, frankly, as a child. It can open new doors to bullying and inappropriate behavior. But it can also be a great way for children to keep in touch with family and express aspects of their changing identity. Keeping communication open, learning about the changes in social media together and not succumbing to outside pressure — you’ll stay on the right path.

Andrea Bazion is the founder of everHuman, a Fort Collins-based company that helps people to better navigate their digital lives. Photo: picjumbo.

 

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