How Can Parents Come Up to Speed With Social Media?

Here’s the thing. I’ve spoken to you about the different aspects of social media in relation to kids enough times that you probably know that I take it to be an important area of concern. And yet, parents are still coming up to me with the same sort of questions.

“How can I tell friends apart from non-friends on Facebook?”

“How do I know if it’s just kids fighting or if this is an actual case of cyberstalking?”

“What can I do when someone leaves a threatening message on my son’s Ask.fm?”

And I think I get where they’re coming from. Pointing out these seem complicated if you’re not decently familiar with social media itself. A few weeks ago, we talked about the different social media apps kids are using these days. Let’s dig a little deeper today to see what problems each present.

The Social Sharing

Instagram. Vine. Snapchat. These are all apps where you share a photo/video of or related to yourself. The problem with these is that they’re like a window into your child’s life. And sometimes, the giveaways are too personal. The posts on Instagram are also open to comments. And when they’re posting pictures of themselves, this means they’re giving bullies the chance to insult, harass or simply mock them.

What is it about social sharing platforms that you need to come up to speed with?

  • The risk that comes with sharing personal photos/videos
  • The ambiguity of ownership of these photos/videos
  • The direct communication with bullies
  • The effect on self-esteem that comes with the expected response (or lack thereof)

What is it that you need to check?

  • That the photos don’t give away personal information—home address, credit card number
  • That none of the photos/videos put them in a compromising situation
  • That their friend’s list only consists of people they know
  • That their comments sections are free from harassment
  • That they have the appropriate privacy settings

The Social News Outlets

Tumblr. Reddit. Livejournal. The thing with these platforms is that they’re used for many blogging purposes, but they’re mainly tied together by common interests. People come to these websites to talk about their favorite shows, books, artists and the like. These ‘groups’ are called fandoms. And if you think common interests should bring kids together, how very wrong you are. Because fandoms have wars. Disagreements caused by different opinions on what is essentially the same subject matter.

Spotting the problem with these websites is a little tricky because anyone can talk to anyone—regardless of friends lists. While Reddit and Livejournal has a comment system through which kids partake in discussion, Tumblr has an ‘ask’ system, where questions/opinions are posted to a user’s inbox.

What is it that about social news sites that you need to come up to speed with?

  • The probability of fandom discussions turning into personal attacks
  • The implication or blatant use of racist and homophobic slurs
  • The prospect of mob mentality that an organized internet group presents

What is it is that you need to check for?

  • That the message boards they frequent are regulated
  • That the personal attacks don’t take a cyberstalking form
  • That your child isn’t taking part in an unhealthy activity, such as group bullying a common target in the fandom

Here’s What You’ve Leant

As far as social sharing is concerned: friends list, friends list, friends list. You need to regulate who gets to see what your child is sharing. Remember, sites like these have privacy settings that determine who is and isn’t allowed to look at your photos/videos. Make sure your kid has the right settings.

As far as social news/discussion sites are concerned: check for regulation. These websites have rules for how discussion are to be carried out and what is/isn’t allowed. Make sure you and your child go through them. Report activity that goes against it.

I understand that understanding the personality of each website is tough, especially if you’re not an avid user yourself. But keep in mind what is important for the children’s cyber-security.

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