Most teens use some form of social media and have a profile on a social networking
site. Many visit these sites every day.
There are plenty of good things about social media — but also many risks
and things kids and teens should avoid. They don't always make good choices when they
post something to a site, and this can lead to problems.
So it's important to talk with your kids about how to use social media wisely.
What's Good About Social Media
Social media can help kids:
stay connected with friends and family
volunteer or get involved with a campaign, nonprofit, or charity
enhance their creativity by sharing ideas, music, and art
meet and interact with others who share similar interests
communicate with educators and fellow students
What's Bad About Social Media
The flipside is that social media can be a hub for things like cyberbullying
and questionable activities. Without meaning to, kids can share more online than they
post photos of themselves online or use their real names on their profiles
reveal their birthdates and interests
post their school name and the town where they live
This can make them easy targets for online predators and others who might mean
In fact, many teens say they have:
been contacted online by someone they didn't know in a way that made them feel
scared or uncomfortable
received online advertising that was inappropriate for their age
lied about their age to get access to websites
Concerns and Consequences
Besides problems like cyberbullying and online predators, kids also can face the
possibility of a physical encounter with the wrong person. Many newer apps automatically
reveal the poster's location when they're used. This can tell anyone exactly where
to find the person using the app.
And photos, videos, and comments made online usually can't be taken back once they're
posted. Even when a teen thinks something has been deleted, it can be impossible to
completely erase it from the Internet.
Posting an inappropriate photo can damage a reputation and cause problems years
later — such as when a potential employer or college admissions officer does
a background check. And sending a mean-spirited text, even as a joke, can be very
hurtful to someone else and even taken as a threat.
Spending too much time on social media can be a downer too. Seeing how many "friends"
others have and the pictures of them having fun can make kids feel bad about themselves
or like they don't measure up to their peers.
What Can Parents Do?
It's important to be aware of what your kids do online. But snooping can alienate
them and damage the trust you've built together. The key is to stay involved in a
way that makes your kids understand that you respect their privacy but want to make
sure they're safe.
Tell your kids that it's important to:
Be nice. Mean behavior is not OK. Make it clear that you expect
your kids to treat others with respect, and to never post hurtful or embarrassing
messages. And ask them to always tell you about any harassing or bullying messages
that others post.
Think twice before hitting "enter." Remind teens that what they
post can be used against them. For example, letting the world know that you're off
on vacation or posting your home address gives would-be robbers a chance to strike.
Teens also should avoid posting specific locations of parties or events, as well as
Follow the "WWGS?" (What Would Grandma Say?) rule. Teach kids
not to share anything on social media that they wouldn't want their teachers, college
admissions officers, future bosses — and yes, grandma — to see.
Use privacy settings. Privacy settings are important. Go through
them together to make sure your kids understand each one. Also, explain that passwords
are there to protect them against things like identity theft. They should never share
them with anyone, even a boyfriend, girlfriend, or best friend.
Don't "friend" strangers. "If you don't know them, don't friend
them." This is a plain, simple — and safe — rule of thumb.
Make a Contract
Consider making a "social media agreement" with your kids — a real contract
they can sign. In it, they agree to protect their own privacy, consider their reputation,
and not give out personal information. They also promise not to use technology to
hurt anyone else through bullying or gossip.
In turn, parents agree to respect teens' privacy while making an effort to be part
of the social media world. This means you can "friend" and observe them, but don't
post embarrassing comments or rants about messy rooms.
Parents also can help keep kids grounded in the real world by putting limits on
media use. Keep computers in public areas in the house, avoid laptops and smartphones
in bedrooms, and set some rules on the use of technology (such as no devices at the
And don't forget: Setting a good example through your own virtual behavior can
go a long way toward helping your kids use social media safely.