If Santa's sleigh touched down with a smartphone or tablet this year, there's a few things you'll want to keep in mind before giving your child untethered access to social media and the web.
Access to information can quickly become access to too much information. And online bullying is just as abundant as online support.
So, how do parents keep kids on the safe side of the cyber tracks?
This article published on the Common Sense website offers an in-depth look at some of the more popular apps and the categories in which they fall.
Kids and teens are participating in "diversified" online activity within apps that are categorized as micro-blogs, secret or "self-destructive" apps, texting apps and more.
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In addition, many teens and adolescents have become fluent in codes and abbreviations that are frequently used to try to stump an outside observer of their online chats. Many of these can be found here.
Once you've identified the apps and sites on which your teen is spending time, how do you keep him from being the victim of the online abuse?
Consider these 5 tips as you prepare your child to responsibly use social media and interact with peers in the cyber community:
Limit smartphone use. This is the simplest way to keep kids safe. Smart phones are reported as the primary avenue for kids' online activity, and they will continue to be increasingly accessible to kids of all ages and socioeconomic classes. Establish some guidelines and stick to them.
Medical News Today recently published a summary of a study that demonstrates teens' and adolescents' feelings of anxiety surrounding the pressure to be involved in online social communities at all times. They're literally losing sleep over this. Do them a favor and help them manage the "FOMO" (Fear of Missing Out).
Keep them involved in activities, daily family routines, and face-to-face interactions with friends so they don't' feel the need to be on the phone at all times. You're the boss. When it's time to put the phone away, it's time to put the phone away.
Take charge of what your kids download. You wouldn't be the first parent to make your kid deliver a sales pitch to earn your blessing to have Snapchat on her phone. If she makes a compelling argument, accept and set parameters. If not, communicate your concerns and encourage persistent efforts with better support.
Sometimes challenging kids to really examine what they want out of something can shed light on whether it's truly worth the parental push.
Have an honest conversation about responsible use of social media and texting applications. Celebrate the benefits of staying connected with friends and all things important in the life of a 14-year-old, and then offer caution along with advice on how to obey gut feelings, sense foul play, and avoid drama or bullying behaviors. Also, remind your child that if she's not comfortable saying whatever she's posting or texting to the recipient's face, then she should really think twice about that post.
Reiterate the permanence of Internet-based interactions. If you don't know what a "screen shot" is by now, educate yourself and remind your child of everyone's ability to make even their "secret" or "self-destructing" online activity permanent. If kids can't stand by what they're texting, posting and viewing, then they shouldn't be doing it.
Someone is always watching or privy to methods for recovering everything that ever happens online. You cannot stress this enough.
Encourage a mix of personal and commercial connections within online forums. Teens and adolescents need a mix of content coming across their screens. They can avoid being completely engrossed in the happenings of the Friday night high school football game if they also view posts from favorite products, publications, musicians, artists and athletes in the mix of notifications. Maybe they'll discover something more worthwhile to research or investigate that will enrich their lives in a bigger way than the gossip wheel will.
None of this advice is to shelter your child from social media and texting apps. Social online behavior is becoming a healthy and normal part of their development. A parent's job is to be open, and to create a safe and inviting dialogue that will promote trust between our kids and us. Will there need to be appropriate limits? Yes. But go ahead and let them tweet, snap, post, poke and chat. They'll have to take it from there.