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Monitoring & Mentoring Kids On Social Media

Posted November 13, 2013

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Social media can connect, engage, inspire, and educate. It can also expose young children to content well beyond their years. Our expert weighs in on how to help your kids understand and manage a brave new world, online.

Question: I trust my tween and know he understands the dangers of the world, but I’m weary to simply let him go online and into the unknown. How can I explain to him the potential dangrs, and keep an eye on his usage without seeming like an annoying helicopter?

Expert: Dr. Tina Paone is the clinical director of the Counseling Center at Heritage in Montgomeryville, which provides full-service counseling services with a focus on Child-Centered Play Therapy. She is a National Certified Counselor, National Certified School Counselor, Approved Clinical Supervisor, Licensed Professional Counselor, Registered Play Therapist Supervisor, and a certified School Counselor for K-12 in Pennsylvania. Tina is also the mother of three and serves as assistant professor at Monmouth University.

Answer: The technology that’s emerged over the past decade has completely changed teenage years. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and other social networking sites have kids ultra-connected to both peers and the greater world around them. Ask your pre-teen or teen, and social networking is the most exciting, interesting thing that’s ever happened. Ask a parent, however, and you will hear differently. For as many perks that come along with social media, there are downfalls and risks.

Parents need to think of the online environment as a large, bustling city: Would you feel comfortable with your child roaming the streets of a city (say New York), unattended, whenever they pleased? Most likely you would not. However, you would likely feel more at ease if you’d talked to your child beforehand about dos and don’ts, safety, and boundaries before unleashing them to explore. Below are some tips for parents whose children are active (or would like to be active) in the world of social media.

Age is not just a number

Most social media sites employ an age minimum, and to create an account, users must enter their birthdays. These restrictions are in place for a reason. Do not help your child circumvent the age requirement. This is an easy one; not only does it provide a barrier to entry, it is a rule that the site (not you) is imposing on your child.

Stay informed

Even if you have no interest in the latest social media trends, you should start to acquaint yourself with the latest sites and trends if your children are active social media users. Sites like “Snapchat,” which allows kids to text one another images which only last for 6 seconds, give teens a false sense of privacy – and they need you to keep them informed about the dangers that go along with this.

Show interest

If you show genuine interest in your child’s life online from the time they begin using social media, they will (most likely) be more willing to tell you about the sites they are using. This also presents an opportunity for you to take the conversation a step deeper and ask about their friends, social life at school, and to talk about appropriate online behavior in an informal way.

Talk safety

Review online safety information and make sure that your children know why “oversharing” (or other risky behaviors online) can lead to real-life trouble. Work together to find articles online of children who have made irreversible mistakes online and discuss prevention methods. Children often think that they are invincible – but it’s very important that pre-teens and teens learn that their online reputation is equally as important as their school transcript in this wired world we are living in. Not only could inappropriate online behavior haunt a child socially, but could affect where they are accepted to college, where they get a job, and other life-changing opportunities.

Know your child

Some parents adopt strict rules regarding their children’s online activity, but sometimes, depending on your child, this can backfire and lead to more secretive actions. More importantly, know your child and know what’s happening in his/her life. If your son is usually social and happy, but starts to withdraw from activities or spend more time than usual on the computer, then confront those things and express your concern. 

Monitor – and respect

Monitoring online behavior is a slippery slope, but very important. Again, you know your child best. If you are too controlling, your children may find ways to become more secretive, but if you look at and talk regularly about what they are posting online, they will sense your concern about their online activity and may be more likely to think twice before posting inappropriately. Additionally, you can use parental controls on your computer to block certain content from being accessed, and can monitor your credit cards and cell phone bills for unfamiliar charges.

By taking an active role in your children’s online activities, you can help ensure their safety, awareness, and mental health. Like all areas of parenting, the best thing you can do is stay active in your child’s life and instill a sense of self and strong values. Then, you must trust their ability to make positive choices – of course, with guidance along the way.

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