Social Media: What Parents Must Know
Whether or not you're tweeting or sharing your daily thoughts on Facebook, you have to acknowledge it: Interacting with friends online is a fact of life for your children.
"These connections are really integral to the social lives of today's kids," says Caroline Knorr, parenting editor for Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization that helps families navigate the world of media and technology.
Besides the benefits, there are also risks. That's where you come in.
"It's a parent's responsibility to parent around the technology", says Shawn Marie Edgington, author of The Parent's Guide to Texting, Facebook and Social Media.
Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter all require children to be at least 13 years old to join. That's because of the "Children's Online Privacy Protection Act," which limits companies from collecting personal information about kids under 13. "
Some kids younger than 13 dodge those age limits by faking their birth date and setting up an account, whether their parents know it or not.
"Parents need to ask their children on a regular basis, ‘Do you have a Facebook account? Do your friends?'" Edgington says. She recommends that when you buy your child a cell phone, one of the conditions is that she can't get a Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram account until age 13 and you approve it.
If you’re tempted to make an exception for them, you might want to consider the message you're sending if you allow them to break the rules by lying, about whether they're mature enough to behave safely and responsibly, and about what you will do to monitor their activity (such as "friending" them).
Once your child is of age and has your permission, sit down together to set up the account. Use all the privacy restrictions available and don't give unnecessary information like cell phone numbers, Knorr says.
This is also a good time to talk about what not to post, such as your home address, your child's location, and any inappropriate pictures (including those that have "geotagging" that gives away the child's location.)
Instruct her never to "friend" anyone she doesn't know, and never to share her password, Edgington says. Tell her that she can come to you if anything happens online that makes her uncomfortable.
Setting Ground Rules
Write a contract for your child about how they behave on social media. Outline consequences: "If you take away a 16-year-old's cell phone, it's worse than taking away his car," Edgington says.
Remind your child that social rules apply online, Knorr says.
Explain that it comes down to how she wants to portray herself to the world, and that once something is online, it's hard to make it go away. "Everything your child posts is about his image and brand because it's going to be there forever," Edgington says. Colleges and employers check social networking sites and do Google searches on applicants.
Though the concept of long-term consequences may not click with your child right away, keep reinforcing it.