Guiding Your Teen: The Do’s and Don’ts of Social Media

According to a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) 22 percent of teenagers log on to their favorite social media site upwards of 10 times a day, and more than half of adolescents log on to a social media site more than once a day. Seventy-five percent of teenagers have Smartphones, 25 percent use them for social media, 54 percent use them for texting and 24 percent use them for instant messaging.

All these numbers add up to a large part of this generation’s social and emotional development occurring while on the Internet and cell phones. While there are some benefits to kids using sites like Facebook — increased communication, access to information and help in developing a sense of self — there can be serious downsides to it as well. Here are some tips to help ensure your children’s social safety.

Set the ground rules. One of the best ways for families to agree on ground rules is to create a contract that everyone has to sign. The Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) encourages parents and kids to have open discussions about what rules mean and offers an example of a good safety contract to help get you started.

Age appropriate access. When it comes to setting the age limits on social media in your family, start by laying out the official guidelines from the social channels themselves. The minimum age to open an account on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr and Snapchat is 13. YouTube requires account holders to be 18, but a 13-year-old can open an account with a parent’s permission.

Check Privacy Settings. Once your kids have accounts, you’ll want to ensure their privacy settings are set to the highest levels. Whether your teen is on Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat, every social network has its own privacy settings and it’s important to walk them through making sure their accounts are as secure and private as possible. One way is to accept requests only from friends and family members that they know and be connected with you on these networks. According to the Pew Research Center, three-quarters of Facebook-using parents who have at least one child age 12 or older are friends with their children on Facebook. Make it a point to check their accounts with them on a regular basis to make sure that none of the settings have changed.

Monitor usage. Build trust with your teen by informing them that you are monitoring their social pages, not to be nosy but to ensure their online safety. To monitor their activity, you can check the browser history, however in the world of multiple devices and various social platforms, simply checking the browser history alone isn’t always enough. Net Nanny ($39.99/year), an online software, will track and protect your kids across all your Windows, Mac, iOS and Android devices. It offers features to keep pornography from appearing on devices, mask profanity before it appears, control access to set time limits on internet usage and sends alerts directly to your email.

Cyberbullying. With teens being digitally connected with one another on various social networks, one issue that cannot be overlooked is cyberbullying. It’s important to build trust with your teen and explain the consequences on this topic. If they are feeling threatened by someone online, it’s best they do not respond or delete any messages and let a parent or guardian know immediately.

Lead by example. Remember, one of the rules is that your children have to be connected to you on social media. So, just as you are watching them, they are watching you. Set a good example. Be mindful of what you post and share and of your overall usage. If you’re stopping during conversations to check updates or taking a quick look while you’re stopped at a red light, you’ll be setting a poor precedent that they are likely to follow.

Laying down the ground rules and creating open and honest communication from the beginning, will make the journey through the wonderful world of social media with your teen easier on you and them in the long run.