by Jenn Riggle
I’m not proud to say that I have a double standard when it comes to social media and my kids. But I have to admit, I’m a “Do as I say, not as I do” kind of mom.
I have a Twitter account, Facebook page, a LinkedIn profile and spend a lot of my time on the Internet for work. But when my daughter established a Gmail account and her new cell phone had Twitter, MySpace and Facebook apps, I realized I couldn’t take a lassez-faire approach to social media – we had to have one of those awkward, parental discussions.
Not that these are something new. Now that my daughter has entered middle school, we’ve had lots of these discussions, with topics ranging from why she doesn’t want to be a “friend with benefits,” why she can’t send text messages after 10 p.m., why “sexting” is wrong, and the basics of social media safety.
CNN touched upon the topic of young teens engaging in social media in its article “Social Networks and Kids: How Young is Too Young?” The article points to Pew Internet Research report that says 61 percent of teens age 12 to 17 use social networking sites to send messages to friends and that 38 percent of teens 12 to 14 have an online profile of some sort.
By the same token, a U.S. News and World Report article reported that teens and tweens are more active online than most parents realize. According to Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that tracks children’s use of media, 51 percent of teenagers check into social networking sites more than once a day. And while only 2 percent of parents believe their child has posted naked or near-naked photos or videos of themselves or others, 13 percent of teens admitted they’ve done that.
No matter how much parents want to protect their kids, they’re already on the Internet and it’s not long before they setup a Facebook page (if they haven’t already done so). But do these kids realize that once something is posted on the Internet, it never really goes away – and you have no way of knowing who’s going to see it?
You read stories about college students who post images on their Facebook pages of themselves drinking and in various states of dress, only to have them re-emerge during their job search. Or how cyberbullying is not just something you might see on an After School Special – it’s a regular occurrence at some schools.
Both my kids are using social media and I do my best to keep track of what they’re viewing. My 9-year-old goes to the WebKinz and Littlest Pet Shop Web sites to play with her virtual pets and my 11-year-old uses YouTube to watch music videos, now that you can’t watch them on MTV anymore. And when camera crews showed up at my daughter’s elementary school, she called me and said, “Hey Mom, check out Twitter and find out what’s going on.”
My agency talks to companies all the time about the importance of setting up social media policies to educate their employees about how to use social media. By the same token, parents need to share the same information with their kids – and tell them that you want to know if someone posts inappropriate photos of classmates on the Internet or sends them via cell phone. Now, more than ever, parents need to talk to their kids and find out who they’re talking to online.
We teach kids how to drive and the importance of safe sex. Now, we need to teach them how to safely engage in social media.