Social Media Safety Tips for Kids

Whether it's Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, your tween or teen's social media use is inevitable. Learn about social media safety for kids and get some info on privacy settings here.

When it comes to your kids and social media etiquette, Janet McPeek, Ph.D. and president of Crossroads for Youth – a private nonprofit treatment agency in Oxford that serves at-risk kids – has some insight. Social media safety for kids is a topic she addresses frequently with parents, and tweens and teens she works with. She discussed giving kids a social media primer in the March issue of Metro Parent, ‎but here, she provides even more insight.

The golden rules are: no profanity, no inappropriate or sexual photos and under no circumstance kids allowed to meet face-to-face with someone they’ve met online. Here are some additional social media safety tips for kids that parents need to address.

Comment confusion

Some kids don’t understand that their post or picture could inadvertently send the wrong message. Posts like “I had the worst day! I could just kill myself” could be taken out of context. Explain to your child that when you are face-to-face, others can read your body language and you are able to say, “Wait, I didn’t really mean that,” but you can’t do that with social media.

A huge piece of social media etiquette for teens is to remember is this: Even if you delete it, someone may have already taken a screenshot and shared it with hundreds or thousands of people.

Comments you may think are funny and innocent, may be distasteful or hurtful to others and could escalate into serious bashing. Even if you didn’t mean it, you could become the instigator for an online-bullying episode.

On the flipside, let your child know if they ever witness online-bullying to immediately call it to someone’s attention, such as a parent, teacher or counselor. This is a key piece of social media safety for students as they navigate their way through the school years. As a parent, report the situation to the school, parents of both parties and law enforcement, if needed. It’s better to be safe than sorry. And, your kids ever feel uncomfortable or threatened, encourage them to tell you.

Think before posting

McPeek says role-playing possible situations is helpful to teach children how to make better choices about what they post. For example, ask your child questions like:

  1. Who was at our house for Thanksgiving?
  2. If you put up this picture or post, how do you think they would feel about it?
  3. If you put this picture or post up and someone decides to share it with everyone on your phone list, would that be OK?

If yes, post it. If no, then don’t.

Also, another piece of social media etiquette for teens is to consider some things before posting about parties or events. Before you post photos or comments about the great time you are having at this sleepover, ask yourself, who will see these? Consider who was there and who wasn’t. Would you be hurting another friend’s feelings because they weren’t invited?

Kids often live in a real-time, carefree bubble. Tell your child to consider waiting to post that picture – the one where the child tags all their friends and the public location – until after you have left. Online predators can use this information to track kids down.

Privacy settings

To shield your kids from online predators, take the time to learn the privacy settings for each social media platform. Explain to your child that nothing they do electronically – email, text, Twitter and so on will ever be completely private. McPeek offers this analogy; if you write something on a piece of paper it can be thrown away, but electrically it has the potential to always exist and can be shared with anyone.

Your child should never have a public social media account, on any platform. They should only accept friend requests from people they know and beware of others – because these “friends” may be predators or cyber bullies who want to do them harm.

Kids should not use their full name, city, school or age in text or images. That way, this information cannot be used to locate them offline. Teach them the risks and dangers of sharing passwords, phone numbers, addresses and social security numbers and other personal information – even with close friends.

Teach your child to be wary of messages, especially solicitations or offers with links to websites, as the messages may be coming from a con artist who has commandeered a friend’s profile and is distributing a phishing scam or downloading viruses into your device.

McPeek explains, the whole purpose of parents talking about social media use and these social media safety tips for kids with their children in a proactive, collaborative style is not only to build a communication bridge, but also to help your child develop thinking and decision-making skills related to social media. These are some of the best gifts a parent can give a child – tools to use and the knowledge that you, as the parent, have put your trust in them.

Take a peek at the March issue of Metro Parent to learn more about giving your kids a social media primer.

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