Scrolling through social media takes up a significant amount of time in the lives of our tweens and teens — whether we like it or not. While conversations with our sons and daughters about some of the ill effects of social media have never been more important (see Toxic Comparisons), talking about online risks and safety should be part of your family chats. Here are some topics worth addressing:
• Online Privacy: Teach your kids the importance of safeguarding their personal information. With strangers, they must never share their full name, address, phone number, school name, or other identifying details. Help children understand that not everyone they encounter online is trustworthy. And emphasize that they must never meet up with someone they’ve only met online without talking about it first with you.
• Digital Footprint: Explain that things posted online can live forever online. Frame this idea in practical, real-world terms: how people in hiring positions search social media to learn more about applicants — it could be when they apply for a summer job — and what we post now might give someone a poor impression of us, even years later. Mention how schools search social media when reviewing applicants for high school and college.
• Privacy Settings: Discuss how to limit who can see their posts and profile information. Help them install sensible settings that protect them.
• Social Media Etiquette: Point out how much easier it is online, especially when our identity is disguised, to behave insensitively toward others. Discuss cyberbullying and how hurtful it can be. Encourage your kids to tell you when they encounter cyberbullying, whether they are the victim or a bystander. And suggest they offer support to others who may be the target of cyberbullying.
Talking with your kids about how they use social media may provoke heated conversation. They might have different ideas than you about appropriate online behavior. Try not to react or respond in ways that are likely to shut them down or make them believe that you’re a difficult person to talk to. Remember to do more listening than talking (see Talk Less, Listen More) and move slowly so your initial reactions don’t come flying off your tongue. Know that it’s fine to say, “I’m not comfortable with what I’m hearing. I need some time to think about it and we can talk more later.” Watch one father correct his course after moving too quickly and allowing his defensiveness in the face of his daughter’s words to lead him down the wrong path.