Social media drives youth in modern-day America. The documentary Social Animals demonstrates just how pervasive social media is to teens and how much they rely on it for their self-esteem, popularity, and connections to one another. Studies show that the average teen spends upwards of nine hours a day on a screen, and that just two hours of scrolling through social media contributes to anxiety, depression, and in extreme cases has resulted in suicidal attempts.
While students are connecting with each other they often have their guards down. They might not be aware of online predators or the presence of cyberbullies. Or if they are aware, they potentially don't know what to do about them. Many have followers they don't know and have never met before being able to see everything they post, including personal information. Much, if not all of this activity, is not often shared with parents. In fact, 71% of teens fully admit to hiding online activities from their parents. It's imperative, therefore, that parents are monitoring and mentoring their children on their social media use, and limiting the amount of time they spend on devices.
The Basics: You need to know what apps your children are using for social media purposes. The number of different sites that are available are endless, with new ones popping up all the time. The most popular ones include Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, TikTok, YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, WhatsApp, Telegram, Tumblr, QQ, and Whisper, among others. Know which apps your child is using and how to use the app yourself. Have your child teach you how to use the sites, what they like about them, who they're talking to on them, who is following them, etc.
Reputations are built primarily online these days. That's an important discussion to have with your kids. Anything you post online can be found for-ev-er - nothing is permanently deleted. Future bosses, colleges, even dates might look up your online presence and see if you're the type of person they want working for them, studying with them, dating them, so it's crucial that you're helping your child build up the image they want to last online.
Some ways that you can help mentor and monitor your child's online activity include having computers all be in a designated, shared location in the home, disallowing personal computers in the bedroom. Another way is to make sure that your child does not have their phones in their bedrooms at night or taken into bathrooms, a spot popular for inappropriate selfies to be taken. Set up and maintain some healthy boundaries with social media and technology use.
As it is incredibly important to stay on top of potential threats to your child, you need to know about what could put yourself and your family in danger, as well. For instance, if you or your teen posts about the super fun vacation your family has coming up, you're allowing anyone online to be able to see where your family is going and when you're going to be away. Moaning about a future business trip has the same effect. Being aware of things to say, and equally important what not to say, is a great way to be a strong, positive example to your child of how to behave online and be a good digital citizen.
Ultimately, it's essential that you have the kind of relationship where your child can come to you and tell you, without fear of reprimand, that someone has been harassing them, cyberbullying them, or grooming them. Knowing they have you as a resource to help them in these unprecedented times of need is the best way to help your child make their way through the digital drama they are bound to face.
To find out more about these (and many other relevant) topics, explore our parents and educator resources on utahnetsmartz.org.