Social Media Safety Tips for Parents

Recent studies suggest that our children are spending over 40 hours a week behind a screen. And an increasing amount of that time is spent using social networking sites. Here are five tips to help understand various online communities while also helping children stay safe.

Make Social Media Etiquette Part of Your Family’s Value System
A generation ago, a family’s value system likely included topics such as respecting authority, gratitude, charity and boundaries for dating, drinking and a number of other topics central to raising children.

Today, that value system includes social media.

It’s helpful for us, as parents, to shift our mindsets about social media and avoid providing a laundry list of rules, mostly because the era of social media has opened the doors wide open. Meaning that it’s hard to have a set list of do’s and don’ts, considering the landscape changes every day and provides new ways for children to interact with each other, be it friends or strangers.

In the same way we would explain to a small child that they hurt someone’s feelings on the playground, it’s important to get involved in how kids are interacting with others on screen (even if we can’t see every interaction).

Encourage candid conversations, and share stories you hear about social media in the news. Make it part of your bigger value system, and it will open the door to easier involvement on your part.

Set Age Limits
The vast majority of social networks are not open to children under 13. However, as most of us know, it’s easy for children to get around those requirements and establish an account.

Learn the rules for social networks your child wishes to join, and enforce them. Be firm that rules are rules, and then stick to them as much as possible.

If you have a hunch that your child may have an account they aren’t telling you about, try checking the computer or device history (or consider using parental control software to monitor activity).

Know Your Stuff
There’s no getting around it—we parents need to be knowledgeable when it comes to social media safety for children. That means spending some time on each social media network a child is using (or wanting to use) and understanding the privacy settings and options. Read help sections, especially those focused on security, safety and children, and maybe consider setting up an account for yourself, to get comfortable with the process.

Let your children know you are doing this, and share what you are learning. Ask them questions, as well.

Another good practice is to consider making it a house rule that passwords for everyone under the age of 18 need to be readily available. If your children push back on this (which is likely, especially as they get older), explain the rule in the context of safety. In the same way you have access to and participate in their physical health and records, the same holds true for their interactions on social networks.

Let Children Earn Device Time
Children are accustomed to rules. In fact, they actually like boundaries. And most of us are quite comfortable setting boundaries for things like bedtime, study time and daily lists of do’s and don’ts. So it’s okay to add device and Wi-Fi time to the list. Set specific time limits for use, and consider establishing programs for earning time—15 minutes for every hour of homework completed or every 30 minutes of reading, etc. These incentives work.

Monitor Usage
Finally, don’t forget that social media safety is a daily issue. Try to keep family computers located in visible areas of the home to easily observe and be available for questions and concerns.

You might consider setting certain restrictions for social networks and Wi-Fi at established times using parental monitoring software. And remember this can apply to all devices, like tablets and cell phones. If there’s Internet access on them, try to apply all of the same rules and restrictions in the device’s settings. If you don’t, kids will most likely learn that this is the fastest, easiest way to use social networks and Wi-Fi without boundaries.

So roll up your sleeves. Get involved. Focus on social media safety every day. It’s an important part of keeping our kids safe in today’s plugged-in world.

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