Back 10–15 years ago, the closest thing to online social networking available was email and the occasional AOL chat room. Kids didn’t have to worry about the pitfalls of social media like being stalked online by a jealous ex. But today’s teens live in a decidedly hairier social structure that carries their personal life over into the online world. They deal with online bullying and the threat of predators using false information to ensnare them in their twisted fantasies.
Parenting today is just as much about helping your children understand and navigate their online social lives as much as their real lives so that they don’t get into trouble and can avoid big mistakes that can affect the rest of their lives. To that end, how do you educate your children about social networks? If you haven’t already talked with your children about social networks, here are a few ideas to keep in mind as you approach the subject.
1. Make sure they are old enough
Although some children mature faster than others, Facebook has set a minimum age of 13 for users. This might be a good benchmark for readiness to enter the social network landscape. Before that point, children might be too open with their personal information and too willing to accept friend requests and messages from strangers—activities that are high-risk for social network danger.
2. Keep passwords private
Some teens, especially girls, see sharing their social network password as a sign of trust and friendship. When you talk with your children, make sure they understand the importance of keeping their passwords private and never sharing them with anyone except you. It doesn’t matter if they’ve had a best friend since pre-school, their passwords should never be shared with anyone. You never know when a password might accidentally slip from a friend’s mouth and open a flood gate of mischievous behavior on your child’s social media profiles.
3. Friend them
A good way to teach your children about social networking safety is to require your friendship as a condition of using the network. It’s not about keeping tabs on your children; it’s about staying as connected online as you are offline. That doesn’t mean you have to mercilessly stalk their Facebook profile and send them messages everyday. In fact it’s probably best to stay out of their conversations and give them some privacy online. But being their friend will let them know that you know how to use the networks, and that you have access to their information. That ought to at least keep them on their best behavior.
4. Discuss safety issues
The best way to help your kids navigate social networks is to talk to them about the dangers honestly and frankly. Talk to them about the dangers of friending someone they’ve never met in real life, chatting online with strangers who can easily hide their identities, and giving out too much personal information. In fact, in might even be a good idea to bring up relevant news stories about kids who fell into traps and got in trouble by not being careful online. If you can show them that you care about their safety, and give them concrete examples of failures in social networking safety like this one, you’ll be able to help them see the importance of security and safety online.