Kids and Social Media: Tips for Starting Smart

Too early to be worrying about kids and social media? Think again! Almost 60 percent of Americans ages 6 through 9 go online every day, and 90 percent of kids have an online history before they're 2 years old! Times are clearly different. But just because kids are all over social media, particularly Facebook, that doesn't mean they're all safe. Be a responsible parent by setting a stable groundwork for your child's social media use. Learn how to get started on the right foot, and your child will be more likely to make smart decisions in the tech world for years to come.

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By Jeanetta Jones Miller

Contrary to the opinion of tech-happy youngsters who proclaim, “All my friends have one,” children are not born ready to enter the digital world. As a parent, it’s your job to help guide your child through new experiences—joining a social network is no exception. Read these tips before letting your kid explore all that the social media world has to offer.

Set Up an Account Together

Even if you are already comfortable using social media, make sure you know how to set up your child’s account, tailoring the various privacy settings to your preferences. Resources such as Common Sense Media, LookOut Social and The Online Mom provide detailed information about how and why to do this.

Discuss the Goals

Talk with your child about the purpose of the new device, which isn’t just to look cool, or the new Facebook account, which isn’t to be courted by complete strangers. Go deeper and discuss how these things can help your child grow up to be a good friend and caring family member, someone who knows how important it is to stay in touch.

Set the Rules Together

Children are most likely to follow rules they have participated in setting, so sit down together and agree on guidelines that are specific to your family. Check out the Common Sense Media sample family agreement for ideas.

Allow Mistakes to Happen

Adjust the rules as your child gets older, and don’t try to control her media use so tightly that mistakes can’t happen. Make it clear that she can count on you to help her solve problems together. It’s important to trust older children to make mistakes and for you both to learn from them.

Be a Role Model

“Remember that you are your kids’ role model in the digital world,” says Caroline Knorr, parenting editor of Common Sense Media. “How you treat your smartphone, Facebook account, photo sharing, information-gathering, etc.—your kids will pick up your habits. So follow your own rules.”

Be a Parent, Not a “Friend”

Knorr says that parents should leave it up to the child whether or not they will be “friends” through social media. Stand by the decision that your child is ready for the digital world by stepping back to make room for learning and growth.

Don’t Respond to Your Kid Publicly

“Having parents comment on their posts is the kiss of death and may actually drive a wedge between you and your kids,” Knorr says. “So, keep an eye on things from a safe distance, and monitor invisibly.” If you like a post, say so in an email or chat privately online. If you are concerned about a post, have a face-to-face conversation. Always be honest about your concerns and listen to your child’s side of the story.

Know You Can’t See Everything

Knorr also warns that being able to see a child’s posts does not mean the parent is seeing all of the child’s posts: “If kids feel that their space is being invaded by an unwelcome parental presence, they will make use of all of the filters that allow them to hide posts from specific people. Kids can easily obtain as many online accounts as they want to—so they can friend you on one account but then simply use another account for their ‘real’ friends.”

Have Quality Face Time

The gold standard of human communication is still face to face. Electronic devices are useful tools, but they are no substitute for taking a walk together, tossing a ball back and forth or sitting down as a family to a meal you have all helped prepare.

Parenting in the digital age involves new challenges, but it’s still parenting. The best way to avoid problems is to know your child, be available, and listen at least as much as you talk.

Sometimes parents need to keep their own social media use in check. For a brutal breakdown on what not to do, read "Facebook Faux Pas: 7 Cringe-Worthy Social Media Moms."

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