Keeping Our Kids Safe on Social Media
Children are taught at a very young age about the importance of sharing. It is a basic lesson that all are expected to master by elementary school with the old adage, “Share and share alike”. Unfortunately in the age of technological wonderment that we live in today, sharing too much can be dangerous.
Merriam-Webster defines social media as, “forms of electronic communication (as Web sites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages and other content (as videos)”. It’s first reported usage was in 2004. Twelve years later is has truly become a natural part of growing up for most children in the United States. Unfortunately, though, for parents it can be a full time job trying to keep up with the latest social networks and monitor different types of social media. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are reportedly the most popular today, but just as quickly as these applications exploded onto the scene, others can sprout up in their place. In addition, these known networks can come out with new features and new settings that parents will not necessarily be aware of.
The savvy of most tweens and teens is highly greater than their parents and these children of aware of this discrepancy. Children today have been brought up in the world of cell phones, tablets, X-box and DS, barely aware of their actual surroundings. Their attention is focused on handheld devices that could lead them down a road that may fork in two directions, safety and oblivion. Guidance down this path must start with the individuals responsible for the health and well-being of these young people. Unfortunately social media sites can morph into a source of drama among friends, especially girls, when these children are documenting too many life details on networks. In their naïve state, they fail to realize that all of this information is on a public network and casual online interactions can affect their futures. Because of their limited capacity for self-regulation and susceptibility to peer pressure, children and teens are at some risk as they navigate and experiment with social media. (Schurgin-Okeeffe & Clarke-Pearson, 2011) Parents are the first line of defense for keeping children safe from possible harmful results of reckless activities online.
Regardless of the time it may take and the effort involved, parents must keep up to date on social networks. One of the biggest concerns is how much time kids spend on the internet, but 43% of parents admit they do not monitor their child’s activity. Most parents have never used popular applications such as Snapchat and Instagram, but the need for adult supervision is incredibly important. This may be the only way to ensure that initial mistakes do not spiral out of control. One of the biggest threats to young people on social media sites is to their “digital footprint” and future reputations. Preadolescents and adolescents who lack an awareness of privacy issues often post inappropriate messages, pictures and videos without understanding “what goes online, stays online”. (Schurgin-O’Keeffe & Clarke-Pearson, 2011) Later on in life, when our children begin applying to colleges and employment opportunities, a quick online search can beget many past indiscretions that most do not even remember posting. Our children’s futures are far too important to risk with a picture, a message or anything that we can put a stop to before it starts.
The following are some basic tips to assist with supervising social media usage:
- Create an age limit
- Monitor usage – establish limits on friends and followers
- Know all passwords (cell devices and computers)
- Keep the computer in a common area
- Find out how to report and block certain usage
- Require private profiles – use privacy settings
Stefanie Werner, LMSW