Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and other social media have become part of the fabric of American youth culture. According to a fall 2014 survey by Piper Jaffray (fmchr.ch/pjteens), more than 90 percent of U.S. teenagers use social media with 76 percent on Instagram, a social network on which users share photos and video. Nearly 60 percent of teenagers use Twitter, which hosts short posts and messages, and 45 percent use Facebook, the world’s largest social network.
Parents have to make choices about whether they will allow their adolescents to use these social media sites. If they allow access, parents must provide both boundaries and oversight. Talking to your kids about social media should be a top priority.
When we were teenagers and couldn’t hang out face-to-face with our friends, phones were the communication tools of the day. Today’s teens have many social media options, such as social networks, instant messaging and text messaging. Our kids prefer these options to talking on the phone. They can multitask better via online methods and can communicate without being overheard by parents or others.
Due to parents’ safety concerns, many kids don’t have the freedom to hang out with peers in settings that were common for us when we were teens. As a result, kids use social media to hang out “virtually” with their peers, socializing, chatting and sharing their thoughts.
Although it is possible for kids to have a safe and positive experience using social media, understand that dangers lurk. Kids are always a click or two away from content you don’t want them to view or people you don’t want them to interact with unsupervised.
If your kids are online, they may be exposed to pornography (even if accessed unintentionally). Teenage males, ages 11 to 17, are the number one demographic for new users of Internet pornography. If I were a teen today, I don’t know if I could avoid the temptation of viewing online pornography. My fear is that many of today’s teens will end up on the road to porn addiction.
Because of the veil of anonymity afforded by social media, some sexual predators pose as imposters and give false information about their age and identity — including criminal histories — to gain the trust of “friends.” Recent research indicates, however, that most predators are upfront in engaging their victims online. They search for kids who are willing to interact with them.
Many kids use social media to experiment with their social skills. The online atmosphere emboldens kids to communicate in ways they would not in face-to-face conversation. Sexual comments, “sexting” (taking, sending, receiving, or forwarding nude or provocative photos via the Internet or cellphones), criticisms, rants and cyberbullying are all commonly found in social media venues.
Rules & Settings
If you allow your teens access to social media, be sure to follow the rules and tips provided on specific websites. Additionally, when setting up a social networking account, check the security and privacy settings to make sure your child’s profile is private, allowing only designated friends access to their profile.
On social networks, only allow your kids to designate as “friends” or “followers” people they know and you approve. This will allow your kids to communicate with only a specific, closed group of people.
Over time, your children likely will want to add additional friends or followers. Your children may also receive friend or follower requests from people they don’t know. Set an expectation that no person can be added to the friend or follower list without your permission.
Don’t allow kids to post any information that would make it easy for a stranger to find them. This includes addresses, phone numbers, where they regularly hang out, where they work, and what time they get off work.
From the beginning, set the expectation that your child is allowed only one account on a social networking website. Make sure your child understands that a violation of this expectation is cause for disciplinary action.
Be a Friend or Follower
Make it clear that you intend to be a friend or follower of your child’s account and will regularly check your child’s social media content. Your teens will likely balk at this rule, wanting their profiles to be private, free from a parent’s view. Don’t give in. This will ensure your children think before posting, and it will also give you the opportunity to view the content that others post or share for your child to see. Be sure to follow through. Friend or follow your children’s accounts and visit their profiles frequently.
The possibility exists that your child will receive uninvited, inappropriate or threatening messages from others. Set the expectation that you need to know if this occurs so you can deal with these messages.
Your kids need to know what you expect when it comes to visiting video sites such as YouTube. A 2013 poll found 93 percent of 13- to 18-year-olds visit YouTube weekly (fmchr.ch/fmyts). Let them know what types of videos they can watch and which ones they cannot. You probably won’t be able to tell what videos they’ve watched, particularly if they access video through their phone or when they are away from home. If you communicate clear expectations, however, your kids will have to make their choices knowing where you stand. Make sure they know that if they come across a pornographic video, you’re willing to talk to them about it.
Jim Burns is the executive director of Azusa Pacific University’s HomeWord Center for Youth and Family (homeword.com).
Kids need consistent discipline from their parents to survive and thrive. That means clearly defined
articulated limits, expectations and consequences that are clearly articulated so both children and parents understand. If your kids violate your boundaries, consistently follow through with the agreed on consequences.
Social media is here to stay. How your child consumes it and participates in it can impact her or his life for better or for worse. Provide loving guidance and discipline. And be sure to throw in good measures of patience and grace. In doing these things,you’ll help your child grow into a mature and responsible adult.0