While parents understand that they need to play an active role in keeping their child safe online, most feel ill-prepared and unsure that they are parenting properly around social media.
As rule of thumb, it's best to start when your kids are young — basically as soon as they start playing around with your computer and/or phone. As with other complicated subjects, like (gulp) sex, the topic of using social media responsibly should be an ongoing conversation as you ride alongside them on their digital journey.
Read through this checklist to be sure you are covering the basics.
Be a role model
Your child's relationship with social media will be shaped by how they see you interacting with your devices.
The amount of time you're spending on your phone, whether it's scrolling through Facebook, snapping pics, posting Instagram updates, and texting is teaching your child what digital engagement looks like.
The amount of time you're spending on your phone... is teaching your child what digital engagement looks like.
Are you over-consuming? Distracted? Being mentally and/or emotionally affected by what you see or do online? Show your child how a responsible adult manages their time and uses self-discipline with your online engagement.
Privacy is one of the most difficult concepts for children to grasp. Explain that privacy is not just a setting choice of either "friend" or "public." It's also about leaving digital bread crumbs on porn sites, giving your email address to get free wifi, having your GPS locator on, and much more.
We are not always sure what will happen with our digital footprint and so it's best to have parents be in charge of giving permission for behaviours that give any information to a third party.
Click here for resources on internet privacy so you can help keep your kids safe.
Trust no one on the other end of the phone and computer
It's no surprise to hear that peer relationships rule the lives of our children, but what may be new information for parents is that one way youth show proof of their friendship is by agreeing to trust one another.
For example, a boyfriend asks their girlfriend to send a picture of her breasts and says, "You can trust me. I will delete it right away," or one may ask, "What's your password? Trust me, I won't tell anyone."
These forms of showing trust end can badly. Relationships end and revenge photos circulate, or accounts get hacked. Explain to your kids that you can be close friends without breaking the family rules. Let them know it's OK for them to say, "I can't — my parents check all this stuff and I don't want them to take away my phone privileges."
Don't post things you don't want your grandma or employer to see
It is crucial that parents teach their kids that things live forever on the internet. Never post anything that could hurt your reputation in the future; never post anything illegal or that shows you involved in illegal/compromising activity.
Things live forever on the internet.
Know that even when deleted, posts and pictures can be cached, making them searchable. Nothing hurts more than not making the varsity team or losing that scholarship or job because they found pictures of you in your youth chugging beer, smoking a joint, or posing in your underwear.
Jokes can come at a cost
"I was just joking" or "I didn't mean anything by it" are common childhood phrases, but on social media, when everything you say is amplified and/or can go viral, jokes and humour need to be used judiciously.
Unless we explain explicitly to our children and teens how comments and jokes can be hurtful, they may get into trouble unwittingly. Teaching them to stop, pause, and imagine how they would feel if they were the brunt of the joke helps teach the important characteristics of empathy and compassion.
Adult supervision is non-negotiable
In order for us to ensure our children are practicing all the responsible behaviours we are teaching them, we have to supervise their social media accounts. This doesn't mean we should stalk them, or comment on everything they post. In fact, the more they prove they are applying the family rules the less we need to check in.
Compliment them on what they are doing correctly, too. Most of the time things are great! Investigate the new category of apps for tracking and parental supervision like VISR.ca, which electronically monitors accounts and only notifies you if there is inappropriate content.
How we treat people online should be the same as in real life
Discuss all forms of online behaviours from ghosting to bullying. Our kids are unaware that "liking" a post that is mean is actually participating in bullying. Forwarding a bad image is bullying. Not replying or picking up the phone when your parents call is rude. Texting from someone else's phone so the recipient thinks it's someone else is a form of deception that is inappropriate and even potentially illegal.
Forwarding a bad image is bullying. Not replying or picking up the phone when your parents call is rude.
If the conversation is getting upsetting and emotional, switch to talking IRL to avoid misunderstandings. Don't say anything online that you wouldn't say to someone's face.
Finally, as with all parenting, be consistent and follow through with consequences if rules are broken.
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