Social media and the internet are part of every child’s world. It’s common for middle schoolers to have access to harmful online content by the touch of a finger during any part of the day. Each year middle school students I work with have problems with peers over social media. If your child has a smartphone, their world is wide open to anyone and everyone having access to them and influencing them. While you can monitor what apps they have, you can’t be with them all the time.
Young teens have access to sexual content, inappropriate jokes, and pictures that former generations didn’t. They’re also exposed to online predators, mean-spirited classmates, and individuals who don’t look out for their best interest. Kids are not developmentally able to handle the large amounts of media content they receive in seconds via social media, information that’s potentially harmful. Middle schoolers are impulsive and more emotional, making the union between them and social media like gunpowder. How can you keep your child safe with smartphones, tablets and social media, teaching them appropriate boundaries with peers and potential predators?
Cyberbullying and sexual harassment are just the a few of the messy situations middle schoolers can get into using social media.
These basic safety tips can help in reducing some, but not all, of the dangers around them.
- Be on each social media outlet your child is and require them to give you their password. It’s important you’re aware of the social media culture your child’s in. Don’t be afraid to monitor their wall, messages and posts. It’s for their safety.
- Having smartphones and being on social media should be a privilege, not a right.Don’t be afraid to take these privileges away when needed.
- Limit who your child gives their cell phone number to. Sexual predators usually are people a child knows – they typically aren’t the creepy guy at Seven Eleven.
- Don’t put a cell number or the town you live in on a social media profile.
- Be careful posting photos on Instagram, Facebook, Vine or Snapchat – can someone identify where your child is, what school they go to? Who follows them on Instagram? What are the motives of the person following them?
- Make wise choices about who they “friend” or “follow” in social media. Go through their friend list. I found a predator on the list of my child and my son thought they were “safe” because the person was “friends” with mutual people.
- Use the strictest privacy settings on social media.
- Delete unknown links in social media.
- Be aware of spam messages and what they look like – especially on Twitter.
- Teach your kids to think in “real time” when posting things or sending texts. A common question I teach students is, “If you don’t want your grandma to see this, don’t send it.”
- Teach your child they can control what they read or accept from a person. Block a person if necessary is there are harassing or mean-spirited posts.
- Avoid responding to unwanted texts, messages, or posts.
- Avoid retaliating if a friend or classmate is being mean. It’s not helpful to the situation and feeds the cycle of aggression.
- Teach your child to show unwanted, harassing texts or social media messages to a trusted adult if ignoring the behavior does not work. Save the evidence, and contact local law enforcement if needed.
- Don’t share social media passwords with friends.
- Disable GPS tracking on smartphones unless your teen needs to use a map to get somewhere. Though you may be able to find out where your child is, so can others – almost every social media site tracks location if GPS tracking is on.
- Communicate with your teen about their cyber relationships.
- Give your child permission to tell you or trusted adult immediately when harassed.
- Consider giving your child a “dumb phone.” While it’s not the coolest thing to do, it is the safest. We’ve chosen this for our middle schoolers and they’re all okay with it.
- If your teen has a smart phone, use an internet filter. There are several products out there.
- Keep up on familiar apps. Have a say in the apps they have on their devices.
Your middle schooler probably won’t embrace these restrictions. But their world is quickly changing and you need to be vigilant in protecting them where danger is ever-present. Don’t be afraid to be “that mom” who’s uncool. You’re still the gatekeeper of their souls.
What are tips you’ve found helpful in monitoring your child’s social media? What are things you’ve encountered that’s surprised you?