Parenting is both amazing and challenging, all day every day. We parents of tweens and teens (I have a 12 year old daughter and feel all of your pain) have the added challenge of managing the fact that kids are on their devices constantly. They experience a majority of their social interactions through their phones and tablets. Apps such as SnapChat, Musically and Houseparty are some of the most popular places for tweens and teens to interact and socialize. It can be scary for parents to try to manage and keep up with all the activity and potential drama that these sites bring. But it is incredibly important to do it to help keep kids safe.
Here are 5 things you can do to make the conversations less painful and more helpful for you and your child:
- Keep It Real: It may sound totally lame to a teen’s ears but following the Golden Rule when social networking is the best way to keep from being bullied or harassed. Research has shown that those who harass others online often become victims of harassment themselves. Encourage your kids to avoid trouble by being themselves, being honest, and treating others with respect — just like they would in the real world.
- Protect Passwords: Remind kids that passwords should never be shared with anyone, even friends. The strongest passwords are combinations of letters and numbers and don’t include names or other identifiable information that can be easily guessed. Promote safety while respecting your kids’ privacy by inviting them to seal their passwords in an envelope and promise to open it only in an emergency.
- Post With Caution: Posting personal information or inappropriate messages can put kids at risk with strangers as well as friends. Once a message or picture is sent or posted, it’s almost impossible to get it back. Friends break up, but a picture on the Internet is forever. If they have profiles on networking sites like Facebook or Instagram, remind your kids that whatever they post becomes public. Anything they wouldn’t want a stranger their grandmother or classmates to see should be kept offline.
- Keep It Clean: Talking about sex or sharing explicit images online may sound like fun or kids may think it’s a joke, but it is never funny. Those messages can lead to anything from embarrassment among friends to a predator’s “grooming” or even blackmail. And in the case of photos, it’s actually illegal. If your kids are on the receiving end of sexual messages or images, the first thing they need to know to do is tell you or another adult – no matter how embarrassed they might be. Together you can contact local law enforcement.
- Don’t Meet Online Friends Offline: The fact is, there’s no way to be sure that someone your child met online is really who they say they are. And once they meet in person, your child can be in serious real-world danger. So why do it? The reality is that kids do meet friends on line, and to them it’s becoming more normal. Talk to them how they know this person and how did they actually meet them online. If they want to meet in person, have a plan: Go with your child in a public place to meet this person. If your child balks at you going too, there may be more to the story.
Navigating the online world can be scary, especially because we were not raised with this technology. But it’s so important to put aside our own discomfort and parent in this space. Have strong rules and boundaries for your child’s online privileges. I have all of my daughter’s passwords and most of her apps are also on my phone so I can randomly check what is going on and monitor friend requests, etc. We have had some good and difficult conversations. Kids may not always bring the topics up, but when addressed, they may actually be relieved and open to hearing a few things (even when they act like they don’t care).
Hang in there and be strong, it’s worth it!
If you or your child are being bullied or harassed online and need help, please call our Mayerson Center for Safe and Healthy Children at 636-