How to Protect Kids on Social MediaProtecting our children’s privacy on social networks is an ongoing challenge that begins at a young age and continues after they leave home for college or work. Let’s face it, many kids know more about social networks and technology than their parents and unless parents are with them 24/7, it’s practically impossible to control kids’ use. Children who are denied their own devices or access to technology and social media at home can use it at school or when they are with their friends. It’s wiser to teach them the appropriate way to use it.

One of the most important things we can do to help our children is to build solid relationships that allow for frequent back and forth conversations instead of one way lectures. Ongoing discussions are helpful because social media and technology evolve too rapidly for a couple of conversations to make a dent. We must educate ourselves and stay abreast of technology trends, issues and solutions so we are able to provide intelligent and helpful input for our children.

Empowering our kids by letting them teach us something new can enhance relationships, facilitate interactive discussions and help protect them in the process. Using the same social media platforms they use enhances our ability to provide meaningful and constructive suggestions and can allow us to monitor them too. That said, I will admit I was not prepared for what I’d see when I did this.

My husband and I signed up for Facebook when we noticed our kids using it frequently. My hubby wanted reassurance that our oldest son was surviving college life and I wanted to stalk our kids for their safety and my piece of mind. We were happy and mostly silent observers of amusing interactions between our kids and their friends until an obscene and out of character post by my mischievous younger son appeared in my news feed. I can’t comfortably share the post, but his friends loved it and had written funny commentary beneath it. I was not laughing as I frantically and repeatedly called and messaged him at school. When he called me back I demanded his password, deleted the post and prepared for the discussion we’d be having when he got home.

It turns out my son was obligated to write the outrageous post as a penalty for losing a bet. The teenagers thought it was harmless and hilarious; I disagreed. Our calm discussion did not lead to punishment but it enabled my son to understand the potential dangers. (I don’t have to point them out with all the stories about people being fired or not being hired because of inappropriate social media posts, right?)

I want to emphasize the importance of being a quiet observer of the social media conversation between your kids and their friends. If you participate extensively or embarrass your child online, you may be “un-friended” or have your access level reduced. This will reduce your ability to see what’s being said online which will decrease your opportunity for productive and targeted offline discussions.

Facebook messaging my child

Asking my son to remove a potentially problematic photo in a non-offensive way

Going back to my younger son, I thankfully haven’t seen any new posts as unsettling as the one I mentioned earlier. But I have seen photos of kids doing what college kids do best (having a good time?) and I’ve suggested that some be promptly removed. That includes a photo of a credit card receipt my son posted for his friends’ entertainment when he visited home and had a pizza delivered. The receipt was for “Ben Dover” (Bend Over – you get it right?) and our home address was below the fake name. Luckily our relationship makes it easy for me to politely suggest that inappropriate material be removed and no requests or suggestions have been rejected yet.

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A photo from Chemistry lab at college

In spite of these incidents, social media has been overwhelmingly positive in our family. When our sons traveled internationally to China and France, we enjoyed following their trip via Facebook and were reassured of their well being and safety by the fun and interesting photos they posted along the way.  Facebook messages and Skype made it so easy and inexpensive to stay in touch. When my college boy visited home a few weeks ago, he downloaded Snapchat on my phone. I’ve gotten great laughs from disappearing funny expression photos, I’ve been surprised by cool video concert moments and I’ve been entertained by colorful photos from Chemistry lab.

I’d like to say we’re out of the woods because recent social media interactions with my kids have been drama-free, but, that wouldn’t be true. I’ve been known to make my own mistakes with social media so I expect my kids will do the same. We have an empty nest at home but our desire to guide our boys and to remain actively involved in their lives continues. The great news is that technology and social media make it easy to stay close in ways that parents of prior generations could not. Social media has helped us have a healthy, productive, fun and safe relationship with our sons and we know that regardless of our whereabouts, it will continue to keep us actively involved in each other’s lives.

For additional social media privacy guidelines, please see:

Until next time,… Stay Cyber Safe!

*  This post was written for SociallyActive,  a monitoring service that keeps parents informed about their children’s activity on social networks.

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