Teens & Screens Part 1: Raising Smart Cyber-Citizens in Social Media

The following is the first in a three-part series on how to help safely navigate the world of social media with your kids from Sue Scheff, a mother, author, parent advocate, and expert in internet safety education.

teens and social mediaDo you consider yourself a savvy digital parent? While your kids are away at camp during the summer, it can be a great time to get caught up on learning about the cyber-lives of youth today. The more you know, the more you can better communicate with your kids regarding their digital lives.

The results of a recent 2014 study by McAfee titled, Teens and Screens, should be a wake-up call for parents. Some of the staggering findings include:

  • 59% of tweens and teens engage with strangers online
  • Cyberbullying has tripled, yet 24% of the respondents admitted they don’t know what to do in the event of online abuse
  • Tweens and teens are still over-sharing their personal information, with 14% admitting posting their home address

Exactly what do you know about your child’s online life? Most know about cyber-safety 101:

  • Limiting screen time
  • Telling kids to never give out passwords
  • Parental settings/controls and monitoring kids’ and teens’ social media activity
  • Being kind online – explaining to your kids to think before they post
  • and other common cyber-security issues

This is all very important, but let’s look at some issues you may not have considered.

Some virtual friends are actually strangers.

At camp your child is meeting many new friends and people.  They will be expanding their social networking circles and it is fun learning about new people and their lives.

What your child needs to understand is that there are restrictions.  When they come home from camp and jump on their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social networking sites to add their new friends—that it should be limited only their real friends from camp.

What does this mean?

Many kids can get distracted into friending or adding people that are friends of friends—and before they know it they are connected to hundreds of people they don’t really know and have never met.  Why is this not a good idea?

The main reason: your child’s future is at-risk.

Your child’s digital image is their future. His or her online reputation will be what determines their college and employment future. 98% of employers now say they will run an Internet search on an applicant and 77% of those with a negative online presence are not invited for an interview.  College recruiters are reporting the nearly the same statistics—they are putting your child’s name through an Internet wash-cycle, and how it spins out will determine if your child secures a spot at a college of their choice.

What does this have to do with a virtual friend that is actually a stranger?

Adding people to your friends list that you don’t know in real life is not a smart idea for anyone, especially kids.  Since you really don’t know them well or their online behavior, you risk them lifting photos, manipulating them and re-posting them on sites you may not approve of. They may use your comments out of context, or worse—you may upset them and they might create a slime campaign with your name.

What to do? An action plan for parents.

When your child arrives home from camp this summer and starts chatting about his or her new friends, it is a great opportunity for you to put your digital parenting hat on.  Your child will probably keep in touch with these new friends through social networking, which is a benefit of our social media, however let’s discuss friending—now.

This is a perfect opportunity to also have your child clean out their friends list of others they possibly don’t really know. Especially if you have a teenager that will be applying to college soon— explain the reasons for this. This is not about you not wanting them to have friends, but in reality these aren’t friends—they are virtual strangers.

It is hard for children to understand this, as adults we learn with maturity that our friends are a reflection of who we are. We have to start instilling this into our children.  Explaining to them that they don’t want friends that are making them feel uncomfortable because of what they post or if they don’t contribute positive content.

Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are full of people that they probably won’t miss.  Unfriending is really painless. Visit www.JustUnfollow.com which will will let you know who isn’t following you back —or even inactive followers – on Twitter.  That is a great start.

Safety is always a priority.  Be an educated digital parent.

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Posted on July 24, 2014

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