Five tips for guiding your kids through the social media minefield

Do we really believe that our children "can't be harmed, or harm others when they are sitting with a device in the comfort of their family home?"

Tara Moss revealed some alarming statistics about the lack of involvement parents are having with their children's online activity that may suggest this is so, in her article this weekend Are kids safe online? Answer is, they're only as safe as you make them

Perhaps the fact that 74% of parents don't know what their kids are doing online is more representative of widespread uncertainty about how to broach the digital minefield they face. It is certainly a daunting task.

As mothers, even of young children, we are only too aware of the potential threats that social media and online activity present to kids today.

We play out the conversations we will have about self-esteem and the ways in which sexting could pan out. Knowing recruiters and hiring managers not only source talent online, but routinely screen candidates on social media during the recruitment process, we understand how their online activity could make or break their futures.

We strategise about how to protect our girls from the type of e-bile Tara Moss reflects upon. How will we keep them from being harassed by malicious comments and messages from trolls who have no empathy for the real people at the receiving end of their venom?

It could stop us sleeping at night, to think about how boys will be expecting the P(orn) S(Tar) E(experience) based on their repetitive online exposure to pornography.

In 7.30's Porn's distortions need addressing at school report, Melinda Tankard Reist tells us that "our boys are looking at porn not only before they've had sex, but before they have even had their first kiss", which is distorting their views and forming beliefs that normal sex is violent, degrading, painful and disrespectful.

"It puts a lot of pressure on us," one teenage girl said. It sure does.

Despite all this, we are advocates of social media and believe strongly in the power of positive posting. The opportunities that our young people can create through their online skills and savvy are potentially game changing and can be achieved with hands-on guidance.

As parents of children who have had smartphones in their hands from infancy, we appreciate this guidance needs to start early and relies on open communication. Here are five ideas to help you build a positive online experience and reputation for your kids:

  1. Ask your kids about which apps their friends are using, how and why. Understanding what social media apps are popular with our kids and their friends and how they are being used will inform parents' decisions about which apps are safe for your children to engage with and which apps are havens for trolls and predators. There are many apps that are known to facilitate this and we need to be aware of what's appropriate and what's not.
  2. Assist them to see the benefit of two-way conversation on social media. Just as our kids wouldn't go to a party and talk only about themselves, nor should they build feeds of selfies without interest in others or the world around them. Help kids move beyond purely narcissistic activity online and encourage them to actively listen and engage with others to reap the benefit of information they can access and learn from online. Whilst a lot of kids use social media purely for outbound communication, there is so much that can be learnt from other people doing interesting things.
  3. Encourage children to be the same person online that they are offline. It is important for kids to understand that the values, etiquette and common courtesy you have instilled extend to their online behaviour too. The number one rule has always been to treat others, as you would like to be treated. 14 year-old Trisha Prabhu's Rethink app, which triggers teens to "think about their actions and improve their decision-making about negative online posts", would certainly be a brilliant tool to help prevent our kids from impulsive online activity they may later regret.
  4. Establish boundaries around devices and encourage use in communal areas. Whilst this doesn't necessarily stop inappropriate usage it certainly goes some way to preventing it. If kids have a sense you are aware of what they are participating in online, they may think twice about they are doing. It also makes you readily available to answer any questions about what is and isn't appropriate. Putting devices away to be charged at night can also help to prevent sinister online activity behind closed doors.
  5. Build their self-esteem offline. Developing confidence in our children from day one is key to helping them avoid posting purely for attention or validation. This is one of the greatest motivators behind kids posting inappropriate content and it is important for them to realise how it may reflect upon them now and in the future. Encourage them to ask "what does my online activity say about me" and help them shape the answer.

The success of our sons and daughters in their personal lives, as well as the workplaces of the future, may depend on our ability to have these conversations and set these boundaries.

Last modified on Friday, 13 November 2015 16:11
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Sally Dwyer and Eliza Kennedy

Sally Dwyer and Eliza Kennedy are the founders and directors of Be Social. Be Smart. A social media education and training initiative that empowers school students. 

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