Let’s face it: parents these days — adults in general, really — tend to be a little behind when it comes to the digital world of social media websites and instant communication. You may not want to admit it, but your four-year-old kid can probably figure out the latest iPhone update faster than you can. This is pretty scary to most parents, because it seems impossible to protect kids on social media sites when the parents don’t even understand the fundamental functions of each site.
It’s possible for parents to invest in things like controllable text message applications or social media monitoring software, but a lot of parents don’t feel comfortable jumping to this level of internet activity monitoring because it can seem unnecessarily invasive. (And if there’s one thing that will drive a teen away from his/her parents, it’s feeling like there’s a lack a trust.)
Here’s one solution that many parents have found to be successful: simply sit down with your kids (ideally before they’re old enough to understand social media more than you do) and talk about tips for internet safety. If you’re feeling stuck, here are a few general topics that can keep the conversation going:
- Which social media platforms seem the most dangerous? Websites that are based on anonymity and photos/messages that automatically “delete” themselves tend to foster more bullying and inappropriate content sharing, but with some guidance and support, kids can learn to stand up for others — and for themselves — when they see cyberbullying happening.
- What does it really mean when a photo is “deleted automatically”? (Hint: This kind of content isn’t really deleted, and can still be accessed by talented hackers. Extra hint: Most teens already know this.)
- Sometimes the best way to learn is through example, and unfortunately, there are plenty of examples of famous celebrities and athletes whose entire careers have been ruined because of one risque picture taken years earlier.
Like most problems during adolescence, the best way to protect kids on social media is often to create an open avenue for communication, and to make them feel respected. Here’s a secret (that isn’t much of a secret): it’s impossible to monitor internet activity and protect kids on social media websites forever. They’ll find out about the weird corners of the internet eventually. But if you give them the right skills, they’ll essentially be able to monitor themselves, and they might be able to influence other teens as well.