Social media is a significant part of a child’s or teen’s digital identity nowadays. Kids communicate and relate to each other through their online profiles. They express their individuality, learn about society and culture, and connect with their heroes, such as musical artists or influencers, through their online persona.
It’s natural for parents to feel hesitant about how kids interact online. Dangerous people could be lurking, including predators, hackers, trolls, and bullies. Kids may not be as aware of how vulnerable they may be as an adult would be. It may be tempting for parents to want to forbid their kids from accessing online networks. Still, social media plays a valuable role in how kids and young adults interact and develop relationships today.
There are ways parents can guide and protect their children online from negative influences. Much of it starts with open communication, so kids may learn about the dangers they’re exposed to. The most important thing to remember is this: teach your kids to make responsible choices of their own.
You may be tempted to manage their social media lives for them, but too many restrictions may lead to “resistance and distrust.” Besides, they’ll never learn how to develop healthy boundaries and relationships with others if you attempt to do it for them. There are ways you can help your kids become more social media savvy so they can have a safe and enjoyable experience online.
Enlighten kids about the dangers of the internet — sensitively
Parents and guardians are aware of the predators out there and what they’re capable of. When warning your kids about the dangers of the internet, approach the topic with caution. There’s no need to tell your child about the most violent or worst-case scenarios, especially if your child is younger. Choose to warn and educate your children rather than scaring them. For example, the danger of abduction is real, but minimal — inciting fear in your child could adversely affect them for years to come.
When talking about strangers or “online friends,” it’s a good idea to remind your kids that not everyone should be trusted. Some individuals can be manipulative and use cyber grooming tactics to gain a child’s trust. Open a two-way conversation by asking your kids how they would handle particular situations.
For example, what would they do if a stranger starts messaging them? Or ask them if they ever wonder if some of their online friends are not the individuals they pretend to be and what your children would do about it if they weren’t? These types of conversations could provide you with insights on your child while allowing you to collaborate to exchange ideas on how to handle these types of scenarios.
The skills they learn today on how to differentiate when someone is telling the truth versus when they’re not, will come in handy throughout their adult lives.
Help kids set their own boundaries
Setting boundaries is essential so kids can protect themselves from bullies and safeguard their privacy. Social media is an excellent platform for kids to express themselves and share what makes them unique. Your kids can highlight their singing and dancing skills on TikTok, their photography and beauty talents on Instagram, or their comedic side on Snapchat. Being open about who they are and receiving support from their network of friends can feel empowering and builds confidence, but there’s a fine line to how much they should share online.
It’s best to help and encourage your kids to set boundaries to protect their privacy. Emphasize the importance of not disclosing their full name, birth date, age, or where they live. It’s perfectly fine to post selfies or post a dance routine, but they should limit what their social network of friends has access to and who sees their posts by keeping their online persona more private.
It’s far too easy for bullies or trolls to harass others when they’re hiding behind a keyboard — and children and young adults are more vulnerable to their attacks. Name-calling and spreading false rumors are the most common abuses. Since kids crave connections with like-minded peers, a cyberbully’s criticism or verbal abuse may affect your child deeply.
As a parent, offering love and understanding when your child is suffering from harassment is important, but many kids may reject the support or even hide their mental state, so you don’t worry. Besides, the last thing they may want is to get forbidden from accessing the social networks, their source of friends, and peers.
If you suspect your child or teen is being cyberbullied, it’s easy to feel alarmed and even angry about the situation. But your intense reaction may be too much for your kid to cope with. Try to remain calm and help your child safeguard themself by blocking the bullies, changing their phone number or other contact details, and learning not to respond to a cyberbully’s aggressive behavior.
The difference between digital identity and physical identity
Parents may clearly see a difference between their real persona and their digital identity, but younger generations may not recognize the difference. Social media provides kids with many benefits, but they need guidance on how to manage the networks’ pitfalls. Helping your kids understand how their digital identity and life is an essential part of their existence — but not the sole one — can help them begin to unblur the lines to manage them better.
This guest article has been provider by Beau Peters as an external contributor.
Photo credit: The feature image has been done by Mi Pham. The photo “girl using VR goggles” has been taken by Giu Vicente. The picture “woman holding phone” was prepared by Luke Porter.
Source: Jonathan Allen (Reuters) / Taylor Lorenz (Atlantic)