How to talk with your kids about social media safety

By Jennifer Bridges, Reputation Defender

There are certain risks involved in using social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter—and these risks are especially dangerous for young people, who may not be aware of these threats or fully understand their consequences. As such, all parents should teach their children how to stay safe on the Internet.

The best way to protect your child is to start an ongoing conversation about cybersafety. But, what’s the best way to go about this?

Keep reading to learn:

  • When you should start talking about social media safety
  • Some ways to make the conversation more insightful
  • What topics you should cover
  • What other steps you can take to keep your child safe on social media

When should you start talking about social media safety?

Ideally, you want to have your first discussion before your child goes online. For some families, especially those in which one or more parents are heavy social media users, this might mean initiating a conversation with your 7-year-old. Other parents might not need to start these talks until a year or two later. The key is to watch your child closely and start the conversation as soon as he or she shows any interest in social media.

Discussing positive online behavior with children is important. Sharing expectations and online safety best practices are critical for their well-being and protection, especially when they begin to independently use the Internet or have their first cell phone.” — Lisa-Michelle Kucharz‏, cyberbullying prevention and cybersafety advocate

Tips for getting the most out of the conversation

Talking about sensitive issues with your child can often be an awkward and frustrating exercise. To make these discussions easier—as well as more productive—do your best to avoid lecturing your child.  You want these conversations to be a two-way street. Moreover, talking “at” your child (instead of “with” your child) will only ensure that he or she will avoid bringing up this subject with you ever again.

Another good tactic is to ask open-ended questions that make your child think and require more than “yes” or “no” answers. For example, (assuming he or she is already on social media) instead of merely asking your child if he or she has ever seen anyone being attacked online, you could ask him or her to describe a hurtful online interaction that he or she has witnessed. This approach not only provides you with more information about your child’s online experiences, but it also furthers the conversation by naturally leading to additional questions like “what constitutes online abuse?” and “what should you do if you witness someone being attacked online?”

Some important thought-provoking questions to ask are:

  • What are the best/worst aspects of social media?
  • How could you use social media to uplift someone?
  • What would make you feel safer online?

Your teens may always be an app ahead of you, but they will always need our offline wisdom.” — Sue Scheff, author and family Internet safety advocate

What topics should you include in your discussions?

There are many topics to choose from when it comes to staying safe when using social media, including:

But, don’t worry. You don’t have to cover all of these things in your very first discussion. Just make sure to touch on the following basic concepts over the course of your ongoing conversations. As your kids get older and gain more online experience, you can adjust the subject matter and the depth of your discussions to accommodate their new level of understanding.

The Internet is forever

This is perhaps the most crucial thing your child should know: Anything you put online will live there indefinitely and have the power to affect your life for many years to come. And more importantly, once you post something, it is out of your control.

Even if you regret a post and decide to delete it, this does not guarantee that it is gone forever. It can still come back to haunt you if someone managed to take a screenshot of it before you took it down. Social media posts have cost people jobsruined their chances of getting into the university they wanted to attend, and even put a damper their dating lives.

Therefore, your child needs to think very carefully before he or she says or shares anything on social media. The things your child shares online should always represent his or her best self. A good test before your child posts anything is to ask “What would my grandmother think of this post?”

People aren’t always who they appear to be

There are 750,000 predators online at any given moment, and children need to how to avoid falling prey to them. One way to warn them is to explain that everyone on the Internet is essentially hiding behind a “mask” that they’ve created.

As such, you don’t know who’s really behind the profile you are interacting with. That sixth-grade girl to whom you’ve been confiding your secrets could really be a 50-year-old man who’s trying to meet you offline, scam you, or steal your personal information.

To stay safe, your child should follow these privacy guidelines:

  • Limit your social media friends to your real-life friends.
  • Don’t chat with or send pictures to strangers.
  • Never share personal information like your last name, phone number, the name of your school, or where you live.

It’s important for your child to follow his or her instincts. If anyone they talk to online ever makes him or her feel uncomfortable in any way, there’s no need to respond to that person. Instead, your child should:

  • Make an excuse and leave the conversation.
  • Block the person.
  • Take a screenshot for evidence
  • Report the person to the platform.
  • Tell an adult.

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