Until you give your Children a mobile phone it can be easy to ignore Social Media, they don't get much opportunity to get involved and they're usually too young to be able to anyway. But when you do finally give in and let them have a phone then you'll have to start talking to them about social media, teaching them how to use it, and how to protect their privacy.
BP was 10 when we got him his first phone, it was a windows phone and had all the apps he needed or wanted. He was excited to get a phone but to be honest he didn't use it much. We mainly got it for him so we could track his location when he was out and about on his own. At that time he was walking to school on his own and we were preparing for him going up to Secondary School.
During the summer before he went to Secondary School we taught him to use his phone. We told him what he could and couldn't do with it, and it was mainly used for texting and phoning me and his dad. It was great.
Then we let him have an iPhone and things changed drastically. He had the Windows phone for more than a year and in that time we learned that he was able to take care of the phone and be careful enough that if we did get him an iPhone he could be trusted not to lose or drop it. So, like I said, we let him have an iPhone, and that's when his phone habits changed - a lot!
He was spending all of his time looking at his phone and downloading all sorts of apps and games. His friends were telling him about apps he should get, like SnapChat, and Instagram, and he would come home asking about them. For a long time we simply said no, he was too young. But eventually we gave in, particularly with Facebook. Now that he is 13 he has a Facebook account, he's also on WhatsApp. He spends lots of time using his phone and chatting to his friends.
But over the last year or so we have learned that there are certain things we won't let him do. There are apps we don't like, for whatever reason, and there are things we needed to talk to him about. It started with privacy, talking to him about sharing personal information, and eventually we've covered why I refuse to let him have SnapChat.
There are positives to social media, I mean I use it daily and get to stay in touch with family and friends that live far away. It's a fantastic tool to keep us connected to those closest to us even when we live hundreds (or thousands) of miles away. We can share photos, send messages, and laugh together, even when we're not in the same room, and that's a truly wonderful thing.
With all the charity coverage on Facebook it could encourage your children to get involved in giving back. They could choose to volunteer or help in some way thanks to something they've seen on social media.
Technology and social media have brought power back to the people.
Social media also allows our children to be creative, they can share ideas, music, and even art via their social media accounts and get feedback from their followers. It gives them a platform to be themselves and I think that's brilliant - if it wasn't for this blog I think I would've gone stir crazy years ago!
Another positive is social media allows our children (and us) to find other people with similar interests. It used to be that if you wanted to meet people who liked the same thing as you you would have to go to a class - you liked dancing, you'd go to a dance class - but these days it is so much easier. You simply type in a search term and find people who like the same search term. It takes seconds.
The positives are great, but they only work if we teach our children to be careful when using social media. If you're my age (37) or older then you'll remember a time before social media, you'll remember the scary times when the internet began. I think we are more aware of the risks, partly because we're now the adults but also because we saw the birth of social media. It is our job to teach our children appropriate behaviour online - just like we taught them how to act when in public.
We live in a time when the "selfie" is a thing - everyone does them. Teenagers constantly post selfies and tag friends, they share these photos without thinking because it's just something they do. A few times we've had to mention to BP that he shouldn't post personal information with the selfies he takes, like his real name or his location. Apparently 9 out of 10 teenagers use their real name and post photos of themselves online. They reveal birthdates, school names, and even their interests. I can't tell you how much this worries me.
We have spoken to BP about his personal information more than once. We have spoken to him about privacy online too. We want to protect our son for as long as we can, stop him from making mistakes that so many other teenagers do. Yes, our lives are online these days, but that doesn't mean we have to give up ALL of our information without a fight. We should be protecting our personal information as if our life depended on it - you never know what damage could be done if someone decided to steal your identity.
If you haven't already make sure you go through the privacy settings in every app your child uses. Go through it together, so they can see the different settings and you can explain what it all means. Both you and your child need to understand what the settings mean, and the implications of changing those settings. Explain that passwords are there to protect them against identity theft and should never be shared - not even with a boyfriend, girlfriend, or best friend.
More importantly here make sure YOU understand the privacy settings. Make sure your child isn't changing them without your knowledge or permission. Don't forget that your child has their phone with them all the time and the last thing you want is their location being broadcast to anyone that wants to see it - like the maps in SnapChat.
Keep things to themselves
Teach your children that whatever they post could be used against them. They may innocently think that posting a photo of them enjoying the beach on holiday is fine, but if they are also sharing their home address that's like a big neon sign for burglars. They should also avoid posting locations of parties or events, as well as their phone numbers.
Now I know that teens and young adults need to share these photos and like to show that they're having fun, but they can still do that without sharing the specific information. They can post the photos but don't allow the location tagging, or share the specific locations.
We have spoken to BP about this a few times, especially when we go on holiday. We don't want him sharing that we're going away, but we obviously don't want him to feel like he can't stay in touch with his friends. We set rules, and he follows them (so far!).
When we're raising our children we teach them to be nice right? We say that they should treat people the way they would want to be treated. We try to teach them to respect others and look after friends and family. And that's exactly what we should be teaching them about posting things on social media. The social accounts are not an opportunity to hide behind a fake name and write horrible stuff about people you don't know. We should teach our children to be nice online too.
Social media is already filled with trolls and people spouting hateful nonsense so if we can teach our children to be respectful of others we can help rid the world of the hateful people. There are always going to be those people but if we can teach our children to be kind we can help to drown out the hurtful comments.
What would grandma say?
That's a phrase I've heard a lot of recently and it's a great way of teaching our children to be mindful of what they're posting. We need to teach our children that "once it's out there you can't get it back.", we've already spoken to BP about this stuff and I've said that phrase more than once. Talk to your children and say they shouldn't post anything they wouldn't want their grandma, teachers, or future bosses, to see - or perhaps before posting simply think "What would grandma say?"
Sooner or later your children are going to start getting friend requests or followers that they don't know. People who aren't connected to your child in any way will send them friend requests. A simple rule to teach your children to follow here is if they don't know them in real life then they shouldn't "friend" them.
These days trust is expressed in certain ways, like sending your boyfriend or girlfriend that nude pic because they promise they won't share it. The thing is you never know what will happen. While it sounds odd to teach our children not to trust, when it comes to social media this is the best course of action. Don't share nude pics - the person you're sending it to might share it. Don't give out your passwords - someone might take over your account and post something awful. All we can do is try to teach our children the best way to protect themselves, and when it comes to social media that is "Don't trust. Even friends."
If we don't act now to safeguard our privacy, we could all become victims of identity theft.
Social media is full of people putting their best side out there. Everyone wants to look like they're having fun or living their best life and as a consequence the photos or posts they share back that up. They don't share the bad hair days, they don't share when something goes wrong. It's easy to believe that that's what real life is like. Things can be perfect. But obviously that's nonsense. We need to be teaching our children that they shouldn't believe everything they read or see on social media. Photos can be edited, people aren't always truthful, and we need to teach our children that.
The one thing we insist on is supervision - whether that's going through BP's phone, or monitoring his use, this is non-negotiable. As his parents we are here to protect him and until he is old enough to make informed decisions then we will supervise.
Most importantly be a role model for your child. How you act, what you post, and what photos you post are all visible to your child so make sure you set a good example. If you feel like you're using your phone too much, maybe take a break from it for a while. Your child will watch what you do and copy, be mindful of the way you act and be a role model for them.
Social media is a part of our lives, and as our children grow it becomes part of their lives too. As parents it is our job to teach our children best practices for online health and protecting privacy.
Have you discussed any of the above with your children?
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