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How to Talk About Social Media Safety With Kids

Tiffany R. Jansen
Dec. 2, 2015

Educate your children about the dangers and benefits of social media so they can be safe, healthy and empowered.

It's likely that almost everyone you know has some sort of social media presence -- according to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey, 52 percent of adults use two or more social platforms. It won't be long before your kids are following in your footsteps or, more likely, they're already racing ahead.

Social media has its benefits, but it can also be dangerous (See 5 Dangers of Social Media to Discuss With Your Kids for more information). That's why it's important to talk to kids about social media safety, says Amy Morin, a licensed clinical social worker and the author of "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do."

How can you let your kids know what's safe? Here are some tips to get a dialogue rolling:

Don't Wait to Start the Conversation
When to introduce social media to your child largely depends on your own level of social media use. If you're a frequent user and have been since your child was small, you may want to broach the subject at an earlier age. If you're not into social media or your child rarely sees you engaging on it, you could probably postpone the discussion.

A good rule of thumb, according to Morin, is to bring up social media safety with your child around age nine. "You don't want to wait until kids are already doing it before you bring up the subject," she says.

Make It a Discussion
"The idea is to strike up a two-way conversation rather than lecture," says Morin. Here are some questions to get you started:

  • Are any of your friends starting to use Facebook?
  • Do kids at your school talk about Instagram?
  • Have you ever heard of "cyberbullying"? (Check out Survey: Cyberbullying Is Parents' #1 Fear for more information.)
  • Are the kids with smartphones sharing photos? How are they doing that? Has it led to any problems or complaints?

Really listen to your child and use their responses to inform the course of the discussion.

Set Rules and Boundaries
Once your child is ready to enter the world of social media, you want them to be prepared. That means setting rules and boundaries for the whole family to live by. Morin advises inviting your child to contribute to the process. "I think it's enlightening for parents to hear what their kids think," Morin says. "A lot of times, the kids have stricter rules than their parents." Start by saying, "We need to set some rules so we can make sure everybody is safe. What do you think those rules should be?"

You'll want to consider:

  • What's Not OK to Share Online
    Current location? Home address? Personal information about friends and family?
  • Guidelines for Accepting Friend and Follow Requests
    Not everyone online is who they say they are. What are some ways your child can tell the difference? Who does your child have permission to interact with online?
  • Privacy Settings
    Who will see your child's social media profiles, posts and photos? Consider turning location settings off for all social media.
  • When and Where Social Media Sites can be Accessed
    After their homework is finished? On the family desktop where you can keep tabs?
  • Social Media Etiquette
    What do you consider acceptable online behavior? What types of posts and online activities do you deem appropriate and inappropriate?

It is a good idea to follow your child on social media and have them share their passwords with you.

Keep Talking
Social media safety is something kids need to hear about often, says Morin, so it's important to keep the conversation going. The next time you're watching a movie or television show or reading a book together and one of the characters reaches for a device, use it as an opportunity to talk to your child about social media.

When appropriate, share news stories featuring children or adults who have been taken advantage of online. Just be sure to counterbalance those with stories of people using social media to accomplish goals, inspire others and enact positive change. You can even share stories and experiences of your own.

You want your child to feel comfortable talking about this with you. What are your biggest social media fears? Let us know below.

Tiffany R. Jansen is a freelance writer in New York (for now). She is addicted to social media. And her daughter. She's not looking forward to the two of them meeting, but hopes that having researched and written this piece will come in handy when they do.

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