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A Guide To Using Social Media Safely: A Parent’s Primer

Social media has taken over the world in every aspect of our lives. From businesses and social communities to our personal lives, it’s everywhere. Everyone wants to be a social influencer or get their 15 minutes of fame (or 7 seconds since our attention span doesn’t last long).

It is now extremely convenient to share pictures of our loved ones with friends, family, co-workers and even strangers. But what happens when you don’t have your children’s consent? Do you still have the right to share their pictures with the world? 

This issue has many people divided as to the right approach when it comes to our kids’ privacy and security in the online world. While it may just be an innocuous picture for us, we have no way of knowing how that image is being used or manipulated. Or even if our kids are comfortable with it. 

Children and social media: Why is it a big deal?

We as adults choose what we want to post for the world to see. But, how about our kids? If they fully understood the concept of social media, would they approve of us posting their pictures and information for all the world to see?

With so many hacks and ethical gaps exposing the big media giants, it is now a matter of safety to be careful with what we post. Since whatever is posted on the Internet stays on the Internet forever, we don’t even know how it could affect our kids by the time they grow up.

Some have pointed out that revealing their milestone dates or other information for all to see could be used in the future to gain access to their online accounts. Of course, we all know the dangers of divulging location details. It is fairly easy to track and stalk someone just on the basis of their social media posts. 

A recent news article reported that a number of people downloaded a video of a 3-year-old girl that her mom posted on her account, most likely for nefarious purposes. That is a dangerous trend and her mom’s posts will likely follow her into her adulthood for no fault of hers.

Once your child starts to use social media, that opens a whole new can of worms. To be inundated with images of people looking, behaving, and living a certain way is known to lead to insecurities about their own bodies and social situation. Many a time, kids are not aware of the risks of talking to strangers online and can be easily manipulated into divulging confidential information, performing dangerous actions, or even sharing sexual content.

Social media sites are designed to be addictive. The infinite scroll, short peppy videos, suggested posts, and the quest for ‘Likes’ gives your brain a dopamine high. You could spend hours looking at pictures and videos without realising and missing out on your real life.

Personal messaging services could also become potentially dangerous with people forwarding screenshots and personal information to other groups. Where do you draw the line? Is it even possible to be completely off of social media in this current age?

Social Media as a tool for learning and development

Child sitting on a chair in front of a laptop attending online classes
Online class in progress

In the last two years, children have spent more time online than in the classroom. Online learning and communication have been a boon during the lockdown period. However, we have also seen that kids try to explore the Internet on their own, probably for the first time while they’re using a parent’s laptop for their classes. The wide-open world is exciting and things can easily get out of hand.

We as parents also reap the benefits of social media, too. It is a great way to connect, de-stress, and have fun. Online creators often talk about serious issues from mental health to the climate crisis, making their audiences aware of issues that might not get covered by mainstream news media. It is a great way to get your message across a wide reach of people and connect with like-minded people. 

For kids, keeping in touch with friends and relatives, showcasing their own talents and achievements, and learning from others as well can bring them great joy and encourage them to try new things.

For parents, the concept of children using social media is a tricky one. On the one hand, they’re aware of the benefits that come along with it. But on the other hand, they know their children are vulnerable to online predators and cyberbullying. It’s important to teach kids how to be smart about what they post online. For many of us, that begins with evaluating our own social media presence. 

How to keep your children safe on social media

father and son looking at a laptop screen while lying in bed on their stomachs
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

With the increase of children on social media, parents must make sure their children are safe. Children can be easily influenced by what they see online and may act upon these images. 

The use of social media by children is an ongoing debate. We often hear about the negative effects on mental health, like depression and cyberbullying. But what can be done to help protect our youth? It is important for parents and teachers to have a better understanding of how social media works in order to help kids navigate through it in a safe way.

Here’s what you need to know about how to introduce your kids to social media in a safe manner so you can both reap its benefits without exposing them to unnecessary dangers.

Start teaching them early. Even if screen time is banned or restricted in your home, kids will gain awareness from their friend circles. It is better to talk about the benefits and harmful effects and gradually build up to independent online browsing.

Make kids aware that their online activity should and will be monitored by you, at least till they are mature enough to understand how to keep themselves protected online. Google’s Family Link app is a great tool to monitor your child’s device.

As for your own social media accounts, make use of the safety and privacy settings to restrict the number of people who can see or share your posts. Remember, not every moment has to be shared with the world. Forcing kids to sit and smile for a picture that looks good on Instagram might just ruin the happy moment for the child in the present.

Google’s initiative, Be Internet Awesome, teaches kids the fundamentals of digital citizenship and safety so they can confidently explore the online world. It has guidebooks for teachers and parents on how to educate themselves and their kids on Internet safety. It also has a few interactive games for kids that drive home the point. 

The quest for the perfect photo or to project a certain image to the world has landed plenty of people in trouble. If you would like to share your own tips for keeping yourself and your kids safe online, please leave us a comment below!

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