Social media workshops with parents and teensI used to run a course on social media for parents at UWA Extension. It used to really bug me that there was always someone in the workshop who would ask, very early on in the day, if I could teach them how to spy on their kids on Facebook.
Obviously, my answer was NO! My approach to this was, still is, and even when my son reaches his teenage years, will still be, that parents and children/teenagers have to work together on this stuff. My course was largely focused on teaching the parents how to use the main social media sites themselves so that they could talk with their kids about them with a degree of understanding.
What social media platforms are teens using?This week I'm running a parents and teens workshop again and as it's been over a year since I last did, I've been diving back into the current research and thoughts to see what's changed. There are definitely a few new risks around, like "disappearing" message apps like Snapchat which give teens the feeling that their messages and pictures aren't permanent, but of course anything you send to anyone can be copied (in that case, screenshots taken) and sent anywhere. Facebook is being used less, but not non-existently - a teacher friend of mine told me at the high school she works at, pretty much every kid there is active on Facebook, yet at another school down the road nearly nobody does - it might be a matter of following what your friends are on. This infographic from Bright House gives a great overview:
Staying safe on social mediaUsing social media safely is a combination of common sense and making sure you have the appropriate knowledge and skills. To be honest, in previous parents and teens workshops I've run, it is often the teens who know the right privacy settings to use and have to teach their parents all about it. Of course, I'd prefer if everybody knew it! My main rules for playing the social media game safely (no matter what your age) are:
- Think before you post. This is the most important one. Be aware that anything you post on social media (or any message you send a friend or even just any photo you take) could end up public. You never know what someone you trust could do with it. So - think! There's so much in our lives we can share without risking sharing something that could be embarrassing to us, to others, or create conflict.
Would you say this out loud to someone?
Would you show your mother or father this?
What if my future employer saw this? Think before you post!
- Don't post personal information. This includes your email address, your phone number, your home address, and so on - if somebody needs this, send them a private message (and then only if you really trust them). You also need to consider what other kinds of information you make public: for example, when I'm travelling away from home and I know my home will be empty, I don't post about this until I'm back - I feel like I'm giving burglars an open invitation! I haven't posted my address online, of course, but who knows who will read what I've posted and what they'll do with that information - it just takes a computer left open somewhere or someone using a public computer not to log out of Facebook or something.
- Turn off location services as a default. Make sure you disable location services on your smartphone and only enable it for apps that are strictly necessary (if you're using a map app, for example, to find your way somewhere). There are some social media apps which are location-based and people you don't know can find where you're physically located - these can be easily abused so be hyper-aware of these!
- Don't share your password (except with your parents). To me, this sounds obvious, but I've heard of kids and teens "selling" their password for $5, or performing a dare to get access to their friend's social media.
- Consider the privacy settings. A platform like Facebook has pretty decent privacy settings (but you should still be wary about what you post). Other platforms are totally public - remember that when you use them. And parents - be aware that your kids might be communicating with others on something you don't consider to be social media - such as messaging via the Minecraft game.
- Be wary about meeting online friends in real life. Nobody (sensible) is going to tell you to never meet someone you've met online in real life. I've done it any number of times - and made some amazing new friends in the process. But remember that it's easy to pretend to be someone else online. And that some people are really good at pretending. Make sure that you tell someone you trust about where and when you're meeting that someone - or take someone with you when you do - and be sure to meet them in a public place where there'll be other people around. If your online friend doesn't understand why you want to do that, they aren't someone you want to be friends with.
- Report/block/tell someone. If someone sends you messages that aren't OK, or take it as far as cyber-bullying, figure out what your first step is basedon the platform you're using - nearly all social media platforms these days have good mechanisms for reporting abusive messages, and for blocking people so that you never have to hear from them again. Tell your parents or someone you trust as well so they can help you make sure you're covering all bases. Head to the Cybersmart Teens page to get more help and info.
- Parents: set up rules at home. You have to figure out what works for your family but it's common for parents to limit device usage to the living room or at least to "public" areas of the house; others will turn off the WiFi after a certain time in the evening.
And for the infographic addicts (oh yes ... that's me!) this one from the British Council gives a good summary of the basics:
Having fun on social mediaI worry that all this talk of safety on social media turns it into a negative thing. Yet there are so many amazingly positive things that can come out of using social media. While people tend to worry that those who spend a lot of time on social media are "dumbing down" their face-to-face social skills, research has shown it's the opposite - teens who spend more time on social media are more likely to have close "real life" relationships and more social opportunities. I can say from my own experience it's the same for adults!
Social media also gives teens the chance to connect with people who share common interests (no matter how obscure) and can give them another "tribe" to belong to where they can really be themselves. That can't be a bad thing, right?
More reading on safe social media use for kids and teensThere's so much more sensible and useful information out there these days - there's really no excuse for parents not to get a handle on social media and help their kids to use it well! Here are a few especially useful links:
- Conversations you can have with your kids about technology - some excellent "answers" for different scenarios and questions your kids could ask
- How to use tech like a teenager - a parents' eye view of what the younger generation are doing
- Australian teens sending sexually explicit messages via social media - eye-opening if you're not aware what some teens are doing - and a good discussion point to use with your kids.
- Social media isn't all bad for kids - it can help their confidence, and more.