Like anything, social media and the Internet can be a good thing or a bad thing—depending largely on how it’s used. It can be a great way to educate yourself of world events or learn new things, keep up with friends and family, meet other people with similar interests, find out about community events, even stay-up to-date with things at your kids’ schools or your church. All good, right?
Unfortunately, it can also be a toxic environment where the open forum turns into a free-for-all of snarky comments, over-sharing things that should be kept private, and—most concerning on all—bullying and exploitation. And while adults might consider themselves equipped to handle it all or discern the dangers, when it comes to our kids, we need to ensure that they know where the harm lies and establish guidelines in place to keep social media and the Internet safe for them.
Part of keeping the widely connected world beneficial rather than harmful is talking with your kids. Make sure that they feel they can come to you with anything that’s on their minds so that they don’t start looking for an outlet on the Internet with someone or some site that could be dangerous. Plus, the open communication you have will encourage them to talk with you about the things they see during their screen time.
Make sure to set boundaries and re-visit them frequently, as well. Social media time—and any time they spend on-screen, whether that means television, gaming devices, phone, Internet, computer, or tablet—should be limited to a set number of minutes and allowed only once certain things like chores or homework have been completed. You also need to clearly establish which sites are okay for them to visit and make sure they know that you’re monitoring their browser history.
Remember that you’re an example for them, so show them the importance of restraint in your own use. The more time you spend trolling social media or with your face glued to a screen, the more they’ll think it’s okay for them to do. And remember to check yourself before you post: is that post going to be uplifting to others, or could it be damaging?
Knowing what’s going on in the digital world is also an important way of keeping the Internet and social media healthy for your child. Make sure that you know about the latest apps so that you can be aware of what your child might be getting into.
Talking to other parents is also important, because they can be a great source of insight into any ways that you might not have thought of to keep your child’s screen use healthy. It’s always nice to know you’re not in this alone, so seek out other parents whose kids are in the same age range that yours are and create your own network of parents who can discuss issues that are happening in the ever-changing world of social media and the Internet.
If your kids are older, creating a digital contract that outlines all of the do’s and don’ts of what’s acceptable and having them sign it is also a great idea.
Especially in these teenage years when peer pressure and the desire to fit in is so great, your teen’s mental health, emotional health, and their social health can be affected by too much screen time, and social media obsession is a slippery slope that’s easy for even us “in-control” adults can fall into. As you create your own contract, there are a few things that should certainly be at the top of the list:
Never post anything that you would be embarrassed for others to see.
Always assume that the things you’ve texted or posted anywhere can be seen anywhere and by anyone. Even though you can often delete something, it can never be permanently erased once it’s been published on the Internet.
Over-sharing is a big “don’t,” so don’t share every detail of your life all the time.
Lock privacy settings. Make sure your child’s profile is secure so that no one can hack in or access your child’s information.
Be mindful of others. Manners are just as important online as they are in the real world.
Don’t rant or criticize, especially when the subject matter is certain organizations, politics, religion, or lifestyles. Others are looking at your posts and will judge you on that.
Be cautious of friend requests and accept only those of people you actually know.
Avoid using location services, because people can track your movements.
Keep your child connected, but also keep them safe. After all, the healthier they are in their on-screen use, the healthier they’ll be in other areas of their lives, as well, as they grow into happy, well-adjusted adults. And possibly world-changers.