Sherry Pomerantz, Ph.D. shares tips for parents and children to help navigate social media safety for teens. Taking time to learn more about the emotional and social pressures on your teen/tween can help you support them during this often difficult time.
Social media represents a major form of social interaction and communication. This is particularly the case for teens, who rely on social media in the same way telephone calls or email used to predominate. The types of social media have also expanded from Facebook to Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, texting and phone apps.
Social networks offer positives for teens in that they offer a place to “hang out” and be social, thereby helping to increase social skills. It also can allow teens to maintain contact with others who do not attend their school, such as camp friends, and provide access to a wider social group with varied points of view. The variety of social networking opportunities can also help to increase computer and internet skills, as well as creativity.
Parents worry about their children’s safety on the internet. We worry that our children will share identifying information that will become available to strangers, that our children will get scammed or ripped off, that they will fall victim to cyber-bullying, that they will be put in physical danger through contact with strangers, that they will reveal private information that will become an embarrassment to them in the present or future.
Teens are at risk for these possibilities due to their impulsivity and difficulty anticipating long-term outcomes. They also may not have developed internal controls. Lastly, teens may have a limited sense of their own vulnerability and so may not think something bad can happen to them.
Rules for Children to Promote Social Media Safety
There are important rules to establish about social networking. They include:
- Making privacy settings high so that only friends can see posts – Help your child set privacy settings in such a way that those who can see their posts are limited to acquaintances. The privacy settings should be re-evaluated periodically.
- Being selective about who they accept as friends (this helps to avoid spam bots or fake profiles that might lead to cyber bullying) – While teens can get into a competition about who has more friends or followers, it is helpful to talk to your teen about the importance of limiting who sees their posts and the potential for problems.
- Never agreeing to meet someone in person that they met online – This represents one of the most important rules for your teen to follow.
- If someone sends inappropriate or provocative pictures, telling an adult. Teens can be hesitant to tell an adult – Some may not want to “tattle” and others may think they and their friends can handle the situation. However, it is important to reinforce the value of telling an adult.
Social Media Safety Tips for Parents
- “Friend” your child and check in on their social network sites periodically – Parents may feel that they do not want to invade their child’s privacy. However, consider that your child’s entire social network has access to their information, so what they post is not private. If you choose not to friend them, you might also sit with them to see their social network sites and posts.
- Sit with your child and talk to them about what they are doing when they are connected, what their favorite sites are, and what do they do on the site – For example, if they have a favorite music site, are they posting pictures, chatting?
- Laptops and tablets are best used in public spaces – While this may be difficult to follow in some homes, it is often recommended as a way for parents to see what is going on without intruding on the details of your child’s social networking. A parent’s quick glance at what is on the screen and your child’s knowledge that you are around can be a reminder to them to follow the social networking rules of the household.
- Set time limits for technology use, including setting a time and place to put the cell phone before bedtime – Teens do not like this limit but will adjust to it. Technology use close to bedtime can make it difficult for some teens to wind down and go to sleep. Also, depressed mood and anxiety can be heightened when there is not a break from social pressures or stimulation from music or videos that reinforce those feelings.
- Remind children that “what goes on the internet, stays on the internet” – This may be a difficult concept for teens to grasp. However, it is helpful for them to understand that everything they post may remain there or be resent by someone else. Therefore, their rule for themselves should be to think carefully about what they are posting before they hit the “send” button.
- A Teens Guide to Social Media Safety: This page offers suggestions for online safety.
- Teaching Kids to be Smart About Social Media. This page discusses the positives and negatives of social media and provides useful links to other sites for additional information.
- Kids’ Digital Well-Being is Common Sense. This website is particularly useful as it offers a wide range of information about social networking and internet use for families, including recommendations for children by age group.
- Social Networking Advice for Teenagers. This is a website that offers advice to teens about social networking.