Social media has transformed modern life, but it can be problematic for children and teens who are still developing the social–emotional intelligence required to handle this constant stream of images and ideas. It takes real social media skills to handle these channels appropriately and to deal with some of the psychological repercussions of hyper-connectivity.
Fortunately, you can work with your child to develop a thoughtful relationship with social media. Start with these must-master social media skills for kids to begin your ongoing conversation.
1. Protect Your Privacy
Social media is designed for sharing, and that means even adults can make significant missteps that put their privacy at risk. Teach your teen to review their privacy settings and keep accounts set for the strictest levels of privacy, including automatic review when tagged in a photo or named in a post. It’s also a good idea to review the importance of protecting passwords, hiding information like last names and birthdays, etc. Your kids may roll their eyes at the basics, but it never hurts to review.
2. Honor Other People’s Privacy
Parents may actually be the biggest culprits when it comes to oversharing. Of course, parents have their kids’ best interest at heart, but in general, people may not always think about whether to share photos of others on their social channels. Savvy social media users know that it’s not okay to post photos or video of someone without permission, because what’s funny now may cause real embarrassment with college admission counselors or job interviewers later. This lesson is a combination of good manners and the golden rule, and following it can help curtail cyber bullying.
3. Practice Good Citizenship
It’s no longer possible to draw a line between online life and “real” life—they’re too intermixed. That means that online disagreements can spill over into the classroom and beyond for kids of all ages. Teach your child to treat online interactions the same way they would face-to-face interactions. Some quick rules:
- If you wouldn’t say something to someone’s face, don’t post it.
- If you wouldn’t use this language in front of your grandmother or school principal, rewrite it.
- Work to be inclusive online, just as you would in real life.
- Think twice before posting photos or comments about a social event that might leave someone else feeling left out.
- You don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to. It’s always okay to walk away from a discussion that doesn’t feel good—turn off the notifications and take a break.
4. Set Limits
A recent study sheds light on the reasons why social media may be harmful to teens’ mental health. It’s a one-two punch of increasing exposure to cyber bullying and reducing time for healthful activities like exercise, sleep, and personal interactions with friends. The risks are greater for girls and for young people who are already vulnerable due to mental health issues, a difficult home life, etc. Explain the risks to your child and work on setting healthy limits together, perhaps in the form of family rules around social media use.
5. Get Skeptical About Sources
One of the reasons girls struggle more with social media is because they are constantly bombarded with unrealistic images that can chip away at their self-esteem. One way to combat this is to teach your children to evaluate source validity, including asking who is responsible for a post and what their intentions are (i.e., Instagram influencers are paid to make their lives look perfect and promote products). You can also look for signs that a photo has been Photoshopped to call out unrealistic expectations of women’s appearances—a useful skill for women of all ages. It’s also a good idea to educate your kids to what is actually “fake news” and what is legitimate information.
The internet doesn’t have to be a scary place, but many of the risks are more subtle than stranger danger and identity theft. Keep talking to your kids and modeling these lessons to help them navigate the social and emotional challenges of social media as they grow up in our brave new world.