BY KORI MACKALL, Director of Communications, The Piedmont School & John Yowell Academy
With the holidays fast approaching, many parents are probably hearing the pleas, bargaining, and downright begging of their children for the latest in cell phones, tablets, or other devices. A common concern I hear among parents in this technology-driven era is how to keep track of their child’s online footprint or presence. We are living in unique times with the social media boom, much of which can have a dark shadow over it. When nearly 90% of today’s teens report witnessing cyberbullying, and with an increase in the pre-teen and teenage suicide rate, and often a generational disconnect in social media use, it is a legitimate concern for today’s parents and grandparents to be fearful of their child’s social media usage and even where to begin monitoring it.
Here are some useful tips for beginning to monitor your child’s social media interactions.
Perhaps one of the most common things I hear from parents is, “I don’t know anything about Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Kik, Musicaly, GroupMe, or Instagram.” Well, it’s time to learn. Just because you don’t use these apps or social media outlets, doesn’t mean you can’t become educated in them. If your kid is using them, I recommend creating an account yourself. A great place to start learning about apps, websites, and overall statistics and information are resource websites like commonsensemedia.org or teensafe.org. YouTube also has several video series on different apps, how they are used, dangers to look out for, and tips/tricks for parents. Consider apps like Mama Bear or Bark, where you can pay a monthly or annual fee to link your child’s social media apps and Internet history to your phone. You can receive alerts to warn you of inappropriate activity, cyberbullying, or any other potential issues. You can also receive alerts from these apps if your child disables them on their phone.
Be honest and set expectations.
Have a sit-down conversation with your child about your expectations for their mobile device use and your policy on social media use. Stand firm with your expectations and remember that somehow we all survived a time without mobile devices, and if need be, they can, too (don’t be afraid to take the devices away). It is absolutely not out of the question to require that your child turn in his/her cell phone at night, in fact, it is highly recommended. It is not out of the question to require one of the above-mentioned monitoring apps stay on their device. Create a “device contract” with your expectations and rules in writing and have your child sign it. These are rules to be followed in order to keep the device—if any of the rules are broken, the device goes away.
Explain and model appropriate social media behavior.
So often we tell our children what not to do on social media—“Don’t be a cyberbully,” “Don’t post inappropriate pictures,” “Don’t add people you don’t know as friends.” So often we forget to show them what is appropriate social media behavior. Work with your child to learn what an appropriate post is. Have open conversations about what is worth sharing and what is not. This can help explain and express the permanence of what they share online.
Find someone “cooler” than you to be a mentor.
Now, of course, we as parents, even Millennial parents, like to consider ourselves pretty cool. We like to think we are approachable enough for our kids to openly talk to and share all the new fads and trends with. But, come on, we remember what it was like to be teenagers…the time where our parents knew nothing. Consider enlisting the help of someone your child may deem “cool” to help be your eyes and ears on your child’s social media accounts. Consider an older cousin or sibling, a church member, a neighbor, someone who is in the young adult age bracket (18–24 preferably) who can friend your child on Facebook, Snapchat, Kik, Musicaly, Instagram, GroupMe etc., and can secretly alert you if they see anything inappropriate or questionable on your child’s account (be it from your child or about potential cyberbully situations).
The truth of the matter is, it is hard to keep up with the latest and “coolest” trends in the social media atmosphere. As a parent, you may think your child won’t get caught up in social media drama or can navigate it on their own if you just talk to them about it, but the reality is, most adolescents need direct involvement from their parents to help ensure their social media and web-based interactions stay appropriate and safe. Social media doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon, so prepare yourself to be hands-on in socializing your child to social media.