What happens on the Internet stays on the Internet - forever. That might be the most important message for anyone using social media, but especially for youngsters just beginning to plugin with friends and social groups.
In a recent study, 22 percent of teens said they log onto their favorite social sites more than 10 times a day. That exposes them to possible cyberbullying, inappropriate content, sexting and Facebook depression, when online bullying and being un-friended can lead to symptoms of depression. Parents need to help their kids prepare for the wild world of the Internet. The online world can be as important as the playground world to kids. Talking with other parents will reveal whether all the other kids really are using social media, and parents can exchange tips for keeping kids safe.
If a family keeps its computer in a high-traffic area of their home, all members will assume that how long they are online, which sites they look at and how they keep in contact with friends will be common knowledge in the family. Everything will be out in the open.
Parents should make the effort to know what their tech devices can do. Kids who have grown up surrounded by tech can easily learn the nuances and master the technology. And they learn from one another about devices, such as game consoles that have a built-in web browser.
Of course, parents and children must develop trust in one another long before any desire for social media use comes into play. The more open and trustworthy parents can be about rules, guidelines and monitoring, the less likely it is that children will develop secret accounts.
Before they use a computer on their own, kids should understand their family's rules and the consequences of breaking them. Parents and children should talk about ground rules for computer use. Families should also have a very clear understanding of how parents will monitor computer use and how children can expand their use and/or their social circles.
Anyone using social media must be aware of the dangers, and parents need to be sure their children understand and act responsibly. Children need to realize that they must behave the same way toward people who are strangers whether they encounter them in a shopping mall or online. They should be wary of personal information that can be gleaned from photos they post. Parents also should stress the importance of an online reputation. A digital footprint is forever. No one who is applying for college or interviewing for a job wants to be haunted by some ridiculously immature post they wrote when they were 13. Parents also need to make sure their children understand the various Internet scams they will encounter and how to deal with contests, purported giveaways and random questionnaires.
Once parents decide their child is ready for a social media account, they can set Internet and specific sites' privacy settings to the highest levels, protecting users and the computer. Parents might consider using software that monitors their children's usage of the Internet. Some software lets parents keep track of social media, place content filters and block chats; some can keep track of how much time kids spend on line and even the exact keys that are used.
Even before a child shows the necessary maturity and understands the workings of the Internet, parents can be good role models of social media etiquette. Then, children can dip a toe into social media, with their parents' oversight, and by demonstrating smart, responsible use of social media, continue to gain independence.