June is National Internet Safety Month, and there is LOTS of information out there about keeping your kids safe while they’re online. There are contracts and scary stats and rules and laws and if you tried to keep up with it all, you’d likely give up. Luckily, I’ve got the three things you need to know about internet safety and your kids. Read on.
If you have kids who are old enough to be on social media, chances are, when you were a kid, social media didn’t even exist. But whether you think social media is a good addition to our lives, keeping us connected and current with the world at large, or a bad one – keeping us apart from real connections in the real world – one thing is for certain: social media is here to stay.
If you’re a parent, that means your kid is going to use it. So whether you like it or not, you need to know at least something about how it works, and what it is. Because in today’s world, social media is a huge part of kids’ social lives, and not knowing about it, not knowing which sites and apps your kids use, is the same as not knowing who their friends are, or where they’re going on a Saturday night.
But don’t worry – it’s not as complicated as it seems. Here are the only five things you need to know about your child and social media.
1. Most Kids Use Social Media to Talk to Eachother – Why is this important for you to know? Because it lets you worry less. According to Danah Boyd, in her book It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, most kids are using social media as a way to communicate with people they already know, or are connected to. Are there creeps out there trolling the internet looking to meet teens for nefarious purposes? You bet. But teens themselves are more interested in communicating with their peer group. That. to them, is what the social in social media is all about. So relax. They may be sharing more than you like, but chances are, they’re not sharing it with anybody creepier than they would be if there were no social media.
Hopefully, your kids social circle is such that that’s a reassuring thought. If not, social media is the least of your problems.
2. The Law is on Your Side Don’t want your ten year old to get a Facebook account? You’re in luck. Neither does Facebook. As a matter of fact, Federal Law prohibits children under the age of 13 from having accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Youtube…you name it! Mostly, this is about protecting children’s privacy, and not about predators, or inappropriate conduct — but who cares what the reason is? When you tell your kids that no, they can’t have that account, you can blame Uncle Sam. Way better than it being all on you.
3. Your Kid Is Going to See Internet Porn (or some other thing you don’t want them to see) No matter how many safeguards you put up on your home computer, your kid is going to see something on the internet you wish he or she hadn’t. Maybe you have the best filters knows to man. Bully for you. Your child will see stuff anyway. At a friend’s house. On their phone. At the library, even. You need to accept and believe this because once you do, you’ll know that you need to talk to your kids about the dangers of the internet. Yep. The tech talk is the new sex talk. Nobody wants to have it, but you have to. You can do it. Really. (and you can read more about how I feel about this topic, here.)
4. There is no such thing as Private on the Internet Tell them this as often as possible. Tell them this so much that they will roll their eyes at you with derision. Tell them again, so that it is branded on their brains. Remind them that Facebook and the like . make their money by selling their private information. And that therefore, your child’s privacy is not thier primary concern. Remind them that 100,000 Snapchats were later leaked all over the internet-Yup, correspondances which were supposed to disappear forever after being seen by their intended viewer weren’t actualy private. Not a shock. Why? Because there is no such thing as Private on the Internet.
5. Follow The Three Be’s When I speak at schools and on TV about social media safety for kids, I always talk about the three Be’s:
You can’t help your kid navigate social media if you don’t know anything about it. Most likely, by the time you’ve caught on to the “latest”, your kid is on to something else. But that’s not excuse not to know at least the basics. Where do you find these basics? Check out the Parents’ Concerns tab on Common Sense Media every month or so. There’s sure to be information – like this article on 15 apps and websites teens are going to, that will keep you informed. Check out Safe Kids.com, and Stay Safe Online,or simply do a Google search for teens and the internet once a month. All kinds of great resources will pop up.
Be Proactive simply means that you shouldn’t wait until something bad happens to get involved. Talk to your kids about the dangers — and benefits of social media WAY before you think you need to. It can’t hurt for them to be prepared.
And Be Available? Well, that’s kind of a mantra for being a parent, don’t you think? Let your kids know that they can talk to you about anything. If you do, when they really need to talk to someone…it just might be you.
Social Media might not be your thing – but if you have kids, it kind of has to be. Hopefully, this short-list of must-dos will keep you in the know, and your kids in the safe zone.