Review your own social networking profiles. Your profile must model the type of respect for self and others you want your child to duplicate.
The variety and constantly changing nature of online social networking can be overwhelming to anyone; this is especially true for parents because they are responsible for ensuring the safety of their children. It is possible to protect your child and to teach him to responsibly interact and engage online.
Every parent should consider the following tips for protecting children from and preparing children for online social networking.
- Talk with your child about online social networking, what he may encounter there, and what types of information he should never share. Let him know he can talk to you about anything he sees and that you will work together to ensure his safety and privacy online. Remind your child that he should never bully, hurt, or threaten anyone.
- Find out which sites and social networks your child would like to join. Chances are these are the sites her friends are already on. Let your child know that she must ask you before creating a profile, becoming a member, or downloading an application that will be used to post, follow, or chat with others.
- Review your own social networking profiles. Your profile must model the type of respect for self and others you want your child to duplicate. Check your profile and remove any material that you would not share with your child or his friends. This includes any negative comments you may have made in the past about family members, neighbors, or other adults in your child’s life. Also, review the pages you “like” and the people whom you follow.
- Create a social networking contract. It’s important to set rules around your child’s use of social networking. A good contract should include expectations for maintaining privacy, content your child agrees she will never post, and the consequences for breaking the contract. Also include rules for what will happen if her use of social networking begins to affect other areas of her life such as school, sports, home, or other activities.
- Know the lingo. The convenience and popularity of text messaging has changed how we communicate and interact with each other. Abbreviations and text slang are often part of the conversation when children talk to each other online. Rather than spending time searching the Internet for every new term and definition, ask your child to explain to you what he has seen and what he knows.
- Teach your child to be aggressive about protecting her privacy. Become an expert in the privacy and notifications settings of the social networking sites your child has access to and review these settings frequently. Teach her to think about what she is posting, sending, or commenting on before she posts. Remind her frequently that she should never post anything online that she wouldn’t want announced to her entire school and that anything she posts has the potential to stay online permanently.
- Only allow your child to participate in social networks for which he meets the minimum age requirement. Make sure your child is old enough to participate in each of the social networking sites on which he currently has a profile. If he is not, delete the account as soon as possible. While this may seem harsh, teaching your child to respect online rules will help him to understand the importance of respecting boundaries in online social networking.
- Watch for the warning signs that your child may be sharing too much information. If your child is secretive or becomes obsessive with her use of social networking sites, spends a great deal of time online late at night, or is socially withdrawn and does not have many friends, these are signs that your child may be sharing too much information online.
- Help your child find a balance. While social networking can strengthen your child’s connections with existing friends and increase his awareness of what is happening in the community, it’s not a replacement for the face-to-face connections and activities your child needs. Encourage your child to engage in other activities. This may require you to set limits on the time he spends online.