Social Media. Love it or hate it, the relationships and interactions that exist online for the human species is not going away anytime soon…if ever.
To adults who grew up without social media, the word friend meant much more than someone we interacted with only briefly on Facebook or Instagram. That relationship had to be cultivated, usually in person, in order for us to consider someone our friend. We called our friends on the telephone to arrange meet-ups and get-togethers, and if we did not get invited to a social gathering, chances are we never even knew about it.
Social media has created a world beyond our physical world that knows no sense of time. Friendships can exist beyond the 8:00-3:00 school day or the weekly soccer practice. Our kids have an opportunity to share and connect with others around the clock. They can build their own online communities to learn from and support one another, oftentimes without any face-to-face interaction at all.
The downside of social media for our kids is that it is so much easier for them to feel left out when viewing pictures being posted online in real time of birthday parties and group hang-outs. Sometimes our kids are reckless and will make mistakes for hundreds to see. Our kids may also have a difficult time “powering down” and taking time away from social media to spend time with friends, family, or perhaps just be by themselves.
While there will always be positive and negative outcomes of social media, it is important that teachers and parents come together to talk to kids about how to navigate a world where social media has become the Arnold’s Drive-in and Peach Pit of today’s youth. To prepare our kids for healthy social media experiences in today’s world, here are three tips for parents of younger students to consider.
1. Read their Email
While this may seem like a violation of privacy, it’s important that parents have access to their child’s email account and that children know that Mom and Dad will be reading up. The younger this practice starts, the easier it is for kids to accept that this oversight is the norm. Parents who regularly check their child’s email can see how their child communicates with others. Most children need to be explicitly taught about email etiquette, especially when interacting with adults and authority figures. By checking in on your child’s email, there will be plenty of opportunities to remind him or her to address the teacher with a proper greeting (“Dear Mrs. Smith” rather than “Hey”) and to praise them for well-written email communications.
In District 109, we use Gaggle’s Human Monitoring System to monitor email that has inappropriate language and content. We use this system as a safety measure to remind students about making good choices online and to intervene appropriately if a student needs any kind of support in school. We hope that parents and educators will partner together to guide children in making good choices with their email communication both in and outside of school.
2. Model the Way
As educators, we model the way for our students on a daily basis. In order for students to do what we expect them to do, we must demonstrate and provide examples for our student to follow. With social media, kids need the same type of experience from the adults around them. Devorah Heitner, national expert on raising kids in a digital world, recommends that parents begin asking their children for permission to post their pictures online. This emphasizes the idea of asking before posting, and hopefully will translate over to when kids become more involved in social media environments. Dr. Heitner has several other suggestions about how to help kids manage the new rules of digital etiquette that can be read in her blog post here.
3. Wait for 13
Around the age of 10, most kids will be begging Mom or Dad for an Instagram or Facebook account. Parents and teachers should let kids know why it is best to wait until they are 13 before joining. It may be hard to answer a child who feels like every other kid in class has an account, but if they understand those reasons to wait, they may not fight too hard. One reason kids should wait is because it’s the law! The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) protects private information from being collected or maintained by an online company for any individual under the age of 13. By joining social media and lying about one’s age, COPPA is unable to offer any protection. Another reason why we recommend that kids wait until they are 13 to join social media is because many kids do not have the foresight to consider the implications and permanency of their online activity.
While we realize that there will be some kids who engage in social media before the age of 13, we hope that many parents and educators will talk to kids about waiting until they are older before joining and emphasize that any time a child feels scared, worried or uncomfortable, they should always tell a trusted adult.
We must accept that the world will never be as it was and recognize that we are all in this world together; kids and adults alike. Let’s work together to lead the way for our kids, equipping them with the skills and support necessary to be successful in a digital world.