How can you protect your children from social media?
One might say, “Do we really need to”? and another would say “We have to”.. and still another will say, “We’re all overreacting”.. and you know what? All three opinions are in a certain way, correct.
Do some of the following questions and comments sound familiar?
“I’m on top of it, I know what this social networking thing is all about”, “My child doesn’t really use it”, “Does it really matter? It hasn’t been a problem yet”, “My kids are good, they’re responsible and know what they are doing, nothing has happened, nothing ever will”. “Facebook seems harmless”, and besides, all they do is text”.
Your children, and for the sake of this post I will keep it to those children that are under 18, are exposed to so many different forms of media and channels of communication, that one has to wonder…
How do you shield them from the dark side and at the same time allow them to explore, absorb and learn without acting or being perceived as the enemy?
Before we dig into the what to do, let’s review something real quick that may help you to understand the landscape a little bit.
Though the above graphic refers to adults, children are not too far off from this model. This graphic by Forrester Research, refers to the types of people that hang out in communities and what they do in those communities. Your children hang out in communities, both online and offline, and all of those communities have their own sets of things to do, their own sub cultures and their own cliques; and within those groups there is as well, unwritten rules and what not.
But more importantly, aside from the breakdown of percentages in that graphic above-look at the number of ways that people can consume and create content. It’s just the tip of the iceberg in ways that a child can communicate with their peers and others. We are, and they are, consumers of media and creators of it. We are, and even more importantly they are, in the digital age.
- Text with their phone
- Online Chat via AIM
- Create video on YouTube
- Comment on YouTube
- Create a blog on WordPress
- Comment on any blog anywhere
- Create a song
- Create a network via Ning
- Upload music and comment on the music
- Upload an audio podcast
- Tweet on Twitter
- Create hundreds of profiles on hundreds on networks
- Update their status on Facebook
- Share images on Flickr
- Share music
- Share audio
- Share content
- They can use a desktop computer
- They can use a laptop, ipad or itouch
- They can use a smartphone
- They can use a mobile device
- They can use someone Else’s device or phone
- They can use someone Else’s account
- They can rate someone
- They can vote for someone
- They can create a poll or survey
- They can use a Webcam
- They can build a website from scratch
All of these forms of communication are just that, forms of communicating-with context and without. And… the majority of these activities have incredible SEO ( search engine optimization) ramifications. Simply put, when this content is created and uploaded or shared, if it was not done in the ever dissolving walled in garden of Facebook- then it is essentially waiting to be found by someone. Good context and bad.
I repeat, Good context and bad. Simply put, If I create or write something about Thomas Jones being a jerk-There is a high likelihood that it will be found in search. The problem? Thomas Jones might be a great guy, but you don’t know that. You just read that TJ is a jerk and so you decide to tell someone else…and so it begins. It goes viral in a social network and people get hurt.
Your digital footprint has never been more impactful than it is now, here in 2010.
So how, as a parent, do we deal with the firehose that is electronic communication, that is social media? How can we at least protect, shield and monitor our children from this new media evolution but still allow them to enjoy all that is has to offer in a positive way?
The first determination is the degree of involvement if any. If there is none, and they say there is none, don’t assume that. If it’s not happening in your house, don’t assume that it is not occurring next door, or in the school library or on the playground.
Assuming participation in social networks is going to happen and or is happening, then you need to take an active vital role in education, in creating policies, and creating ground rules for participation.
Believe it or not, even at the small business level as well as the corporate level, two things that we implore companies and businesses to do from the outset is to: 1) Start listening and monitoring to what is being said about you, your company and your industry and 2) set up and create policies, rules and guidelines for participation in social media. If they didn’t do #1, they won’t know what is going on and, #2, just like children, adults will take advantage of the zero social media policy and the situation and zero work would get done. So the same applies to children.
So I mentioned education. Do you know who needs the most education? You the parent. That’s right. You need to educate yourself on what the social networking landscape looks like and the texting landscape looks like.
u ned 2 kno what asl is as much as idk, wtf and omg…
The more you know, the more you will be able to understand. What do you know and how much do you know will be critical; but more importantly, how much of what you think you know and is it accurate, might be crucial.
Once you have a firm footing it’s time to create policies, rules and guidelines for usage. It starts simply with no computers in the bedrooms. Having the computer in a medium traffic area can be a game changer. Next as part of your rules, policies and guidelines, you will want to know, have or have done the following:
20 point checklist for letting your child engage in social networking
- Know all social sites that your child is a part of it
- Have access to all content pages that your child has created
- Know all user names, passwords and profiles that your child has created
- Know all email accounts with user names and passwords that your child has created
- Create rules of engagement on social sites that are built on being “accountable” to you for their actions-A 3 strikes rule is not a bad idea.
- Create your own accounts in these networks
- Explain that though you will have all this information, you will only access it, should there be a need to.
- Establish Trust.
- Understand that that trust may be breached
- Review the privacy settings in your child’s social networks and map it to their profiles and then review their profiles
- See who is following of “friending” your child and vice-versa
- No adult, unless it’s a family member should be in any network that your child is part of.
- Explain the dark side of social networks to your child, there’s nothing wrong with being scared straight.
- Periodically evaluate the content they are sharing and consuming.
- Know what they are searching for
- Don’t forget or ignore texting and email. Establish usage guidelines for those as well. Never assume they are harmless or easy to manage.
- If you feel the need to establish time constraints for computer and phone usage, do it.
- You’re not trying to be a friend here- we’re trying to be parents.
- If you have to shut it down-don’t feel guilty. Do it without remorse.
- The computer is not a babysitter. Talk to them.
In closing here are some things that you need to know that I told a group last week and it’s something that I have seen first hand. For the most part young children could take or leave using social networks and in my honest opinion-the usage of them, from a learning and sharing and creating standpoint in high school can have great value. But the usage of social networks for those below the age of high school freshman and possibly sophomores, I see no need.
For parents, knowing what your child is doing on a day to day basis is normal, but adding the dynamic of social media and social networks to the mix is definitely a challenge. especially without a road map.
Understanding social media, becoming educated about it and learning how to use it and monitor it are things that companies of all sizes are currently wrestling with. Take heart parents, you’re not alone. It does get better though once we all are on the same page. Just remember that you need to be controlling the technology, not the other way around and certainly not by your children; and though we call it a fire-hose, that fire-hose can be turned off.