Social media is an omnipresent force these days, and that’s not likely to change—probably ever. Even if you’re not the kind of person who likes to share life updates, you know that you still find yourself looking at what everyone else posts. What are they doing? What do they like? What are the best romantic comedy movies they’ve watched recently? If someone posts it, you can’t help your intrigue. And that scares you a bit.
Social media can help you connect and maintain relationships with people that are physically far away from your or that you have not seen in several years. Connection is amazing, so long as it’s the right kind. Online engagement has opened the door to cyberbullying, fraud, and even revenge pornography. So now you’re afraid of your kids falling victim to, or participating, in any of those nefarious opportunities. You need to protect them, but you also need to let them protect themselves—so here are some tips for talking to your kids about social media.
Don’t overexert control
Kids can be rebellious. Regardless of age, no one likes being told what to do, and no one likes being spied on. Demanding that kids don’t visit certain sites can potentially encourage them to, you know, visit them out of spite. Even if you’re monitoring their browsing history, there are plenty of other devices you have no access to (like at school or friends’ houses) that allows them a loophole.
You shouldn’t just demand that your kids don’t visit certain sites or do certain things, you have to encourage them to want what you’re asking for. Don’t tell them not to interact with certain people on Twitter; that will only pique their curiosity. Tell them why dealing with strangers online can be dangerous. Give them examples of how people have been bullied or taken advantage of. Your kids have common sense, and when they know the specific potential consequences of an action, they’ll use it.
Don’t let your kids think you don’t trust them. TODAY Parenting Team’s own Janice Kosidin suggests to let your kids “live an independent life on social media while still being confident in their safety and reputation” and “you should foster critical thinking skills in your children.” It’s never too early or late to walk them through the concepts of reputation, exploitation, and mental health, so walk them through it so they can visualize what social media misuse would actually mean for them.
Be sure not to just talk about the horrors of social media gone wrong. Talk to your kids about the positive things social platforms can offer and let them explore those joys. With potential consequences in the backs of their minds, the temptation to talk to shady people online will hopefully be lessened when your kids are preoccupied with much more fun and healthy activities.
Lead by example
Some parents don’t use social media at all, and others are just as into it as their kids are. Either way, all kinds of parents sometimes flounder when it comes to discussing social media habits with their young ones. Words, however, are not always sufficient, but actions definitely can do the trick.
Make sure your kids don’t always see you on your own phone. Establish tech-free zones or times so your kids can explore just how awesome in-person interaction can be. If you are constantly using social media, your kids will follow suit. Younger ones will think they are adhering to a good example, and older ones might use your activity as an excuse.
Use the power of movies
Stories are incredibly powerful: they’re not only for escapism, but they can give us examples of how to behave or what other people’s experiences are. What if you could teach your kids about social media by watching one of the best new romantic comedies? The film People You May Know discusses the dangers of tying your self-confidence and sense of worth to how popular on social media. That’s something you want your kids to avoid, so let them see it in a safe fictional setting before they experience it in real life.
Know that the conversation is long-term
In an interview with Smart Social, CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute Stephen Balkam says that you need to “talk with your kids. Keep that dialogue going. It’s not the birds and the bees conversation. It’s not one and done.” Especially given how social media is constantly evolving and new platforms emerge, it’s important to adapt your understanding of each development alongside your kids.
Of course, recognize the difference between young kids and teenagers, too. You can watch one of the best rom-com movies with older ones, but grade school children require a different approach. Talk with your kids in ways you know they can comprehend.
How do you talk about social media with your kids?