Social media isn’t just the wave of the future. It’s reality now and has changed the face of communication as we know it. According to a 2015 study by Pew Research Center, 76 percent of teens say they use social media. For those kids, it’s an exciting way to connect and keep up with their friends. For parents, however, it can quickly escalate from harmless fun to a dangerous world of unknowns. The proliferation of cyberbullying, online predators and a host of other issues make it imperative that parents teach their children how to navigate the increasingly murky waters of social media. It has become an inevitable way of life for some, and by all accounts, social media is here to stay. The key is to help your child navigate it in a way that’s safe, fun and makes sense for them – and you.
Antalita Raynor, who lives in Fayetteville, allowed her older children – Cornelius, 21, Armand, 18 and Coriana, 16 – to start using social media around age 13. They initially started on Facebook, then branched out according to their preferences with Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter as well. Antalita enjoyed seeing some of the positive changes in how they relate to others.
“I think they’ve been able to express themselves in a way that they otherwise may not have been able to if they didn’t have social media accounts,” Antalita says. “I think it’s opened up their communication lines a little bit more.”
Monica Klinker agrees. Her 12-year-old daughter Sabrina has been using Snapchat for about a year.
“It’s a fun way for her to connect with the few friends she has. I feared homeschooling would be isolating our children,” Monica says. “Snapchat allows (Sabrina) to be her wacky self and visit with them while we live quite far away.”
Both ladies know their children enjoy social media, and as moms they do see the benefits of using it to connect with others. However, they are well-aware of potential negatives of online interactions. According to the Tulane University 2018 Guide to Cyberbullying Awareness, 70 percent of kids in grades K-12 have witnessed cyberbullying taking place. In fact, kids are seven times more likely to experience cyberbullying from friends than strangers. PureSight Online Child Safety’s website states that one in five teenagers who regularly go online have received an unwanted sexual solicitation via the web. And then there’s always the danger of a person with predatory intentions attempting to contact a child. The possibilities can be frightening, making it imperative that parents employ tactics to help keep their children safe.
You can start by becoming their social media friend. During their teen years, each of Antalita’s children had to make her their first friend on Facebook. “You can see what comments they’re making and pictures they’re posting,” Antalita says. She made sure she had her own accounts on other social media platforms. “Every other account from then on, they had to have me as their friend or follower.”
Along those lines, ensure that you understand the way the social media your child is using functions. Knowing the functionality of Snapchat made Monica comfortable with allowing Sabrina to do it. “Snapchat is only between known users. Snapchat messages are direct one to one or one to group,” Monica states. “Messages instantly erase after they are read.”
But when social media posts, tweets, videos and messages are saved, that can be another cause for concern. “I definitely wanted them to understand and grasp fully – it never goes away,” Antalita notes. From time to time, she pulls up online messages her daughter sent years ago, just to drive the point home. “Whatever they put out there is out there for life. It can affect their getting a job down the road.”
Dealing with requests from unknown people must also be addressed.
“One of the concerns that I definitely had with my daughter – the lurkers out there that try to reach out,” Antalita says. “I always want to make sure that she knew not to entertain strangers or people she didn’t know in her friend feed.”
Monica echoes that sentiment. “My 12-year-old only uses Snapchat with my consent. The only friends she snapchats with are other school girls that I know and trust.”
As children grow and mature, it’s important to outline your expectations, and even model appropriate online behavior. Your involvement with their social media journey can show your interest in their lives and their friends, and at the same time help protect them from potential dangers.