In a digitally social world, it’s no longer sufficient for parents to be caregivers, chauffeurs, chefs and disciplinarians. In addition to those jobs, parents must now be digital gatekeepers: You have to understand the language of online—like TTYL (talk to you later) and SLAP (sounds like a plan)—but more importantly you need to know what dangers lurk behind every social-media corner, keeping your kids safe as they navigate the internet and apps. But with so many different social media platforms available and in use, it’s hard to know where to start. Even if Snapchat, Instagram and their ilk aren’t really your thing, knowing how to use them safely can help to protect your tween or teen from some of the digital world’s more negative impacts. These social media safety tips are a good starting point for a conversation with your children.
Yes, be your kids’ personal stalker if they have social accounts. I can’t tell you how often this practice has given me the opportunity to tell my child that what they have posted is completely inappropriate and needs to be removed immediately. However, while I recommend you follow them on all of their social accounts, it can be less useful to actually engage with them or their posts on social media—because that would just be very uncool.
We established a rule in our home that for our children to have social accounts, they needed to provide us with the username and password to said accounts. This allows you to have some control over a medium that is, overall, fairly uncontrollable. While your children are entitled to privacy, you as their guardian want the peace of mind that if there’s an issue, you can log in and disable those accounts.
As a spokesperson for years about this topic, it would be assumed that my children are the perfect responsible social media beings. NOT! So instead of threatening to take away access to their accounts and then having an argument about that (can you tell this has happened repeatedly to us?), we’ve now signed a contract that outlines the consequences of their social actions. No arguments are required because they have all the information they need to make a good choice, and should they veer from that path, the consequences are laid out for them in the contract.
Don’t assume your kids know it all; they only think they do. They need you to guide them and teach them what is and what is not appropriate on social media. They need to know what types of pictures they can post and what kinds of comments they can make on other peoples’ posts. They need to know that they should not say or share anything that they would be uncomfortable with having displayed on a billboard on a highway.
Nope, no actual fish involved here. Phishing is a method used by predators to get personal information from it’s unsuspecting victims. Those banks that seem to need you to resend them your account details or those so-called credit card companies that need you to reverify your password? All scams. No reputable organization will ever send you an email requesting that you divulge personal information.
Finally, some excellent tools to support your children along the path of recognizing wrong from right include Google’s Interland and the Telus Wise program. Both are free ways that you and your children can become more socially savvy and they provide fantastic resources to understand the dangers of the online world.
There is no doubt the online world is a scary place. But if we take the time to arm our children with the right tools, we can empower them to make the right decisions, gain independence and use social media in a safe and responsible way.
Fraser Walters travels around the world as part of...