With technology and social apps advancing as fast as they are it’s important to know how to keep your child safe on social media. I’ve been a mom since 2003 and one of the absolute toughest things I’ve had to deal with is figuring out how to manage my children and social media. Nothing scares me or overwhelms me more right now as a mom.
I think social media can be a great way to keep in touch with friends and family but it’s still overwhelming for me, so I know it has to be for children as well. Children don’t understand the dangers (and sometimes parents are unaware) of social media apps. And it feels like as soon as we figure out one social media app, another 145 pop up that we have no clue about.
Today I wanted to share some things that we implement in our home related to our children and how we approach social media usage with them. I definitely don’t have all the answers. If you have any suggestions or thoughts on this topic I’d love for you to comment below this post. I’m always curious to know how other parents handle this. I want to trust my kids and have them be educated at the same time, all while protecting them. It’s so challenging!
Tips to Keep Your Child Safe On Social Media
Lay some ground rules.
Children can be very naive when it comes to certain things – especially social media. They might not realize or understand all of the possible dangers that exist. If you lay some ground rules it can help your child know how they should be using social media, what apps or kinds of apps it’s okay for them to use, etc. Family contracts are a great idea in my opinion. You can view some examples here and change it to suit your rules, preferences and ideas that you have for your children.
This really has nothing to do with safety but I think it’s really important. Homework is usually done right after school in our house. The kids have a snack, they work on homework, I help as needed, they empty the dishwasher (other chores as needed) and then usually they’re free. I stress the importance of homework and doing their best in school. My children’s responsibilities will always come before tablet time. If they don’t feel like doing homework right after they get home from school, that’s okay, but they won’t have any tablet time until it’s finished.
Be a good example of a social media user.
Your kids are watching you. If you don’t want your kids doing something be sure that you aren’t doing it either. This means no texting or using your phone while driving and being mindful of the content you’re posting online. No sitting in the bathroom for long periods of time on your device or your kids will hide with theirs too. Kids pay more attention to how parents act than what they actually say. I know from experience! I’m sure you do too. We all remember testing our parents and hearing them say “Do as I say, not as I do”. We all know that doesn’t really work either.
Know what apps your children are using and how they work.
This might mean downloading it yourself to get familiar or using theirs to get a feel for it. Some apps are pretty confusing so spend as much time as you need to see how it works. It’s also a good idea to know how to deactivate and/or delete the account. More on this a little later.
Talk about and show them how to change privacy settings.
It’s very possible they might already know how to do this but it’s a good idea to have a conversation about the importance of privacy and to have their content visible only to people they know. They are kids. Several social apps including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Musical.ly and Snapchat can all have private profiles. If your children aren’t sure how to make their profiles private, work together to figure out how.
Keep devices in a central location whether they’re being used or not.
When I was younger I could never have a computer in my room. The computer was in the living room. Of course technology wasn’t as crazy in the mid-to late 90’s as it is now. For the foreseeable future I will not allow my children to have their tablets or school-provided laptops in their bedrooms.
Limit their usage.
I’m still working on this one. My husband and I do limit their time but we haven’t set anything specific up yet. It’s just hard to know. I realize kids want to communicate with their friends and play games but I’d be so much more comfortable with them talking on a regular phone for a half hour than using social media apps. I find that if I limit their time they’re more apt to communicate with friends they really like or play a game they really want to play. If I let them have too much time, they begin to wander and it’s easier for them to get in trouble once they get “bored”.
Everything that goes online stays online.
Make sure your child knows this and remind them of it often. As they get older and begin to look for employment help them realize that they are creating a digital footprint for themselves and that teachers, along with potential future employers may have access to all of it. Once something is entered into a tablet, it’s no longer private – no matter what the app says. Snapchat is unique because once you send something, supposedly it’s “gone” which is why a lot of children like to use this one.
The truth is, that content is out there somewhere, on some server, floating around the interwebs and there are people who can access it.
Don’t be afraid to ground them.
If rules are broken there should be consequences. Social media and internet use for a child is a privilege, not a right. This includes the family computer or their personal device. What irritates me regarding this issue is even if I do that, my middle school aged children have Chromebooks they use for school – which are required. And while the school blocks the Snapchat app, they still have access to several other social media websites while they’re at school. Not to mention kids know of apps to unblock blocked apps!
Be present with your children.
If you keep your nose down and eyes glued to your phone, chances are your children will want to too. Have conversations, ask questions about their day and their life, play games together, do things together, eat and cook together. No matter how excited kids get about social media, the relationships they have at home are even more important – even if they don’t admit it or if it doesn’t seem like it. Children need their parents and like to feel protected.
Help your children understand that social media is the highlight reel of a person’s life.
Social media has the ability to make you feel like your life isn’t as great as how you’re perceiving somebody else’s and you can easily fall into comparison traps. This happens to adults too, (Facebook depression is a thing) imagine how things might look for kids. When it comes to social media things are definitely not as they seem much of the time. It’s my philosophy that children don’t need to be spending most of their time there. Real life interaction is important for children as they grow up.
Poke around their devices as needed.
This is a touchy subject for a lot of parents – and kids. Here’s my take on it. If I notice behavior changes or notice my child trying to hide things on their device, I will start by asking questions to hold them accountable. “What are you doing?” or “Who are you talking to?” or “What game are you playing?”. If I ever see them close out of something real fast, or try to hide who they’re talking to, chances are I’m gonna investigate. However, I don’t keep them under my thumb. I don’t go into their tablets to read every single thing they write but if and when I do go in and I find things I find inappropriate or questionable, we’ll have a talk, they’ll be grounded (if needed) and then we move on. As of the day this post goes live, my children are 9, 10, 12 and 13. I’m not comfortable handing over web browsers and not taking another glance.
It’s okay to change your mind!
This is something I’ve learned very recently and it has to do with Snapchat. I created accounts for our two youngest children (one who already had an account at her mom’s house and our two older boys have accounts as well) so they could send goofy pictures and messages to family members.
My husband and I recently made the decision to remove the Snapchat app from their tablets because its use wasn’t as innocent as when they first started. Their friends started to find them on Snapchat and vice versa and before you know it our 10 year old is talking to boys from school. Also you wouldn’t believe the drama that exists between girls these days! This didn’t sit well with us and we ultimately decided to remove the app.
Given the privacy that exists with Snapchat we just regret ever allowing them to open accounts and should have done more research on the onset. And let me just say that I had to Google how to delete a Snapchat account and it doesn’t even get deleted right away. It gets deactivated and if you log in at any point within the next 30 days, it’s an active account again. After 30 days of no log in, it finally deletes. With Facebook your account never gets deleted. If you deactivate it, it’s there waiting for you just by signing in again.
More on the poking around thing…
The way I approach poking around comes from my mom. She wasn’t always looking for something but if I was acting different, she would snoop. I was a very private teenager and I was thankful she was aware of behavioral changes because she probably wouldn’t have found out about my sexual assaults otherwise. At the time, I figured I’d be taking that to my grave because I felt so ashamed.
This experience opened up communication regarding these incidents, between us, and I felt so protected by my mom. Kids are this way. Even if something happens that wasn’t their fault, they still might be too afraid to talk to anybody about it. This is just another reason why my children don’t have complete freedom over their devices.
Must-See Documentaries Related to Children and Social Media
SCREENAGERS probes into the vulnerable corners of family life, including the director’s own, and depicts messy struggles over social media, video games, academics and internet addiction. Thru surprising insights from authors and brain scientists solutions immerge on how we can empower kids to best navigate the digital world.
- How Social Media is Affecting Teens.
How are teens being affected by social media? Research suggests the impact is an emotional one.
- The Parent Network: Social Media and Your Kids – Keeping Your Kids Safe.
This video takes a closer look at some of the risks associated with using social networks and gives practical tips and tools for protecting kids from harassment and inappropriate content and teaching them to manage conflict and treat others with respect. It ends with a discussion of ways to keep tabs on what your children are doing without spying on them and tips on setting up effective household rules about how to behave online.
Related reading that may interest you:
Social media stats involving children:
- Over 5 million Facebook users are under the age of 10. (Forbes)
- 56 percent of children age 8 to 12 have a cellphone. (nclnet)
- Almost 70 percent of pre-teens admit to hiding online activities. (mcafee)
Social media and technology isn’t all bad but it’s important to educate your children about it and have them work with you to be sure they are following the rules and being as safe as possible. I think the best way to keep children safe is to have open communication, talk about the rules and expectations of the usage of social media and limit the amount of time they have to use it. They’re kids! They can be doing so much more things with their time than staring at a screen.
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