If you have school-aged children, it’s very likely social media platforms are a big part of their lives. To help protect your children and keep them safe online, it’s important for parents and carers to learn a little more about social media safety, and communicate about it with your kids regularly.
As a parent, you’re likely invested in what your child sees and does online, including on social media. Knowing about social media privacy and safety and communicating this with your child is crucial. There’s no doubt that the world of social media changes quickly, but staying curious and informed will help you protect your child.
Acknowledge the positive aspects of social media
Despite the risks, social media can undoubtedly be a positive experience for young people. It’s a great way to connect with friends and family, and can be a platform for LGBTIQ+ and less outgoing kids to explore their identities safely and find their voice.
By showing your child you understand why they want to use social media — and perhaps even sharing why you use it yourself — they’ll see that you’re ‘on their side’, and will likely be more willing to discuss things with you openly and honestly.
You could ask your child what they like most about social media, and talk about what you like about it too.
Talk about the potential risks of social media
After acknowledging the positives, it’s time to talk to your child about some of the potential risks. This is so that they can be better equipped to watch out for and avoid them.
Some of the negatives associated with social media could include:
- They could receive messages that are sexually explicit, violent or judgemental
- They can become victims of cyberbullying
- Their self-esteem may be impacted by comments made by others
- They can have health-related issues due to over-exposure to social media – this can cause headaches, social isolation and even suicidal thoughts or actions
Ask them if they’ve had any negative experiences on social media, and what they would do if any of the above ever happened.
Communicate the need to use platforms responsibly
Parents may feel a little ‘in the dark’ about certain social media platforms because they evolve so quickly. It seems as though there’s a new type of social media platform being released every few months. But whatever platforms your children are using, there are a few basic principles you can encourage them to keep in mind.
These could include:
- Only sharing information they would be happy for their grandparents, parents and teachers to see
- Thinking about whether they would like other people to see what they are about to post or send, even if it’s a ‘private’ message
- Remembering that the post can’t always be taken back or removed, and even if it can, it may have already been shared
Teach your child about social media privacy and safety
Go through privacy settings with your child and talk about why they’re important. These settings will be different on each social media platform, so find out which platforms your child uses first.
The eSafety website lists all the social media platforms and how they are used.
It’s a good idea for your child to have a private account on their social media platforms, which means only people they are connected to can see what they post or tag them in photos.
Teach your child how to block or ignore people on social media sites, and ask them what might happen to cause them to do this.
Explain that passwords are there to protect them against things like identity theft. They should never share any passwords with anyone, not even a boyfriend, girlfriend, or best friend.
If you find out about any inappropriate conversations someone is having online with your child, be sure to report the person via the ‘help’ or ‘report’ tab. Always keep screenshots of the conversation as evidence.
Make a ‘social media agreement’
Once you’ve had these discussions about social media with your child, make a ‘social media agreement’ with them. In it, ask them to agree to protect their own privacy, consider their reputation, and not give out personal information. They must also promise not to use technology to hurt anyone else through bullying or gossip. Make it clear to your child that they can always come to you if anything happens online that they feel uncomfortable about or need help with.
Parents can also help keep their children grounded by putting limits on social media use at home. Keep computers in public areas in the house, try to avoid laptops and smartphones in bedrooms, and set some rules on the use of technology (such as no devices at the dinner table).
While the world of social media can sometimes seem scary to parents, it seems to be here to stay. By working with your child and communicating openly about social media, they’ll be more likely to stay safe and come to you if any problems arise.
Check out Relationship Australia NSW’s Parenting Programs for more support.