Editor’s note: It seems like a new social network, website or app pops up almost every day! How can you keep up with what your kids are using? Don’t worry, hlntv.com/raisingamerica has you covered. Check back each week for the latest ways your kids are connecting online. Sarah Evans is a digital correspondent for companies like Cox Communications, live-event host and consultant. As the founder of FAVES + CO., a digital lifestyle publication, she shares news about all things social, digital and technology. Sarah can be seen in Vanity Fair’s America’s Tweethearts, Forbes’ 14 Power Women to Follow on Twitter and Entrepreneur’s Top 10 Hot Startups of 2010. She is on Twitter.
It may feel like an invasion of privacy or overstepping boundaries, but it’s one-hundred percent okay to set up and know your kid’s social media account passwords and monitor their use. When you have an open conversation, and both the parents and kids have agreed upon the boundaries and expectations for online use, it’s the start of building good online habits.
It’s important to think about your role in a child’s social media experience as an extension of your parenting. You’re there to teach, guide, nurture and, when applicable, discipline and help them learn. Being the “Password Police” doesn’t mean you’re keeping them on lockdown, but that you’re there to monitor as an authoritative and protective figure.
Your child’s online footprint begins the second they, or someone they know, posts something under their profile that has a public reach. To try and teach a 10-year-old, even a 14-year-old what that means is a daunting task. Your child may only have 10 or 20 followers on Twitter, but anything they post publicly can be accessed by anyone who can view their account or uses Twitter’s search functionality. Or, your child could be among the “1 in 10 teens who have had embarrassing or damaging pictures taken of them” without their permission and posted online. That’s why it’s important, as a parent, to know what your child shares and who shares what with them.
Popular social networks, like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have a minimum registration age of 13, to join, but there’s growth in the number of 9 to 12-year-olds actively using the networks. Now, most 10- to 12-year-olds in the United States have at least one social media account and are unsupervised. This means your child could be interacting with others who have absolutely no adult supervision.
Unfortunately, there’s a dark side of social media, including activities like cyberbullying, cheating on academics or otherwise inappropriate behavior (e.g. sexting). Even though you may talk to young adults about the implications of their online behavior, it doesn’t mean they will know how to apply hypothetical situations in real-life scenarios. From peer pressure to believing that something they post is “private,” there are technicalities and nuances parents may never know how to plan for.
The Cyberbullying Research Center found that “more than 80 percent of teens use a cell phone regularly,” which means they are potentially connected during all waking hours. While it may not be possible to monitor everything they do online, you can set up a way to control their account passwords and get notifications of their social network activities.
There is no handbook or guide to help parents navigate the social network waters with kids. An “easy button” doesn’t exist to delete mistakes and missteps made by kids as they grow up online. It’s essential for parents to be actively involved in conversations about responsible online behavior and stay in control of their kid’s accounts.