Does your child have a cell phone? If so what age did you buy if for him or her? Cell phone use is on the rise for younger and younger children and it's important to teach your kids how to use it, to use social media and that having a cell phone is a privilege not a necessity. 22% of teens log onto social networking sites more than 10 times daily and once this level of engagment rises their risk of cyberbullyng goes up. It is here that we can truly positively impact how our kids interact in the virtual world.
It is clear from many books and scholarly articles written on the subject that social networking can have postive benefits (increasing networks, reading and discovering new things), but overall our kids live in two different worlds.. the real one we know and the virtual world we may not. In your child's brain these two worlds are intertwined and cannot be disconnected even though you may not see it that way. It is here that we need to help our kids navigate the dangerous pitfalls of social media. If we are to let them have social media then its up to us to monitor them on these sites for morality, common sense, integrity and privacy.
The first decision is when to let your child have a cell phone. How old? Most experts agree that no elementary school aged child should have or need a cell phone. As children grow to middle school and beyond their schedules change, and they may be in situations that necessitate a cell phone. Remeber that the phone is NOT just to communicate with you, but also for communicating with friends, strangers (through gaming and social networks), and perhaps bullying or being bullied. Afterall it is much easier to bully behind a cell phone than face to face like it had to be in my day.
So if you think your child is old enough to manage a cell phone it behooves you to teach him or her how to use it with respect for himself and others. Facebook requests that a child be over the age of 13 to join, but you can monitor your child on this site and you should. The same goes with snapchat and intstagram. Sit down and put all the privacy settings in correctly and do this on whatever computer your child uses as well. KNOW all your child's passwords and test him or her from time to time in front of you logging on. Demand that you always have access to your child's accounts. Always go in as a guest and snoop around. BE your child's friend on social media, follow him or have a trusted friend or relative do it for you. This should be part of the contract you have with your child when getting him a phone. It is yours afterall. You can also monitor what your child does with his phone using great applications like www.mymobilewatchdog.com. There are also settings through your cell carrier that can help you monitor cell usage (time of day, etc) and even shut off your child's phone at night for instance. Look at other internet safety websites for parents like www.fosi.org/good-digital-parenting/ to help you partner with you child to ensure his or her safety on line and beyond.
Make a good example of yourself. Show good technology etiquette. Don't text or update your status in the car, at family meals and not when your kids are talking to you anytime. Show them that putting down the device, making REAL LIFE social connections and conversations are more important than any snapchat, nstagram or facebook post. We need our kids to be safe on line, to feel good about their social interactions and to live in the hereand now.
Our kids lives and self esteem are at stake here. If we teach them proper behavior on line and they learn to treat themselves and others with respect and honor your rules then we create a kinder, gentler society with global self respect. A single wrong or naive move on line can be life threatening to children. Educate yourself on how to monitor kids online, to keep them private and importantly how to respect themselves enough to repsect others. We need more kindness and it starts at home.