Joshua John currently works in community relations for the University of Southern California’s Virtual Master of Social Work program, which provides social workers the opportunity to earn an “online social work degree” and apply for a “social work license”. He also loves gadgets, movies, and all things Batman.
Dos and Don’ts of Using Social Media to Connect with Your Kids
During the ‘80s, we worried about our mothers reading our diaries, so we locked them up or hid them under our mattresses. Today, sites like Facebook and Twitter put your lives upfront, causing parents to become concerned with what their children are exposed to and making them feel like they should provide more oversight. Social media mixed with our kids makes everything seem less secure and simple, yet there are ways to find balance without becoming the parent who comments on his or her daughter’s every tweet or Facebook status (much to her horror). Here are some easy tips:
Show your child how to use social media responsibly.
Common Sense Media, an organization dedicated to educating families about technology and media, recommends that you talk with your children about how to appropriately use social media. Be sure to emphasize that anyone can access information displayed publicly online (even future college administrators and employers). Establish online usage rules, including how much time can be spent on social media sites, as well as what is permissible to post. Help your children manage their security settings, making sure that only friends and family can view their information. They should not friend anyone whom they do not know personally, no matter how tempting it seems to have more than 500 “friends.”
Become familiar with social media sites.
Set up Twitter and Facebook accounts in order to become more knowledgeable about how these sites work. Check out YouTube and other websites that your children find interesting. I am not encouraging you to stalk your children online, but get a sense of what they are involved in. You want to ensure that sites are age appropriate and do not play host to hate speech or predators trying to solicit private information. Remember: You must be at least 13 years old to have a Facebook account, so if you allow your child to have one at a younger age, you are encouraging them to be dishonest (they have to lie about their age to set up an account) and have access to information that they might not be mature enough to properly handle.
“Friend” your child.
If your children have Facebook accounts, make sure that they “friend” you. This way, you will have access to their posts, conversations and pictures. If a picture looks inappropriate or provocative, ask them to remove it. This is where balance is important. Even if you are your children’s “BFF,” you need to give them space. Keep your online responses to a minimum to avoid becoming smothering and overbearing. You want your children to become more independent so they can grow to be self-moderating social media users and, ultimately, responsible adults.
Don’t let your child talk negatively about school or peers.
Even something that seems like a benign comment can later blow up. “Cyberbullying” has become a huge issue, with cases of teens committing suicide after feeling like they could not handle the bullying online. Responsibility is key, and if you feel like your children are using social media in a cruel or negative way, make them suspend their accounts until further notice. This is not being overbearing, but protecting them from serious problems that could arise later.
I mentioned setting time limits earlier. Spending hours perusing social media sites is not good for your eyes, brain or ego. Make sure that your children get outside and spend some time engaged in offline activities. Too much time immersed in the online world can lead to depression and a sense of low or distorted self-worth. Do not forget to have your child exercise, and if you find that you are also spending too much time online, plan some family exercise time together. Sometimes it’s best for the whole family to disconnect!