How do you teach children to use social media, especially when the rules seem to be changing every year? A generation ago, parents didn’t have to worry about whether their child would post something unsafe or inappropriate to Facebook or another social network. Now, children are creating Facebook accounts as soon as they turn 13 — that is, if their parents haven’t created social network accounts for them at birth. How do you talk to your children about what they share online? How do you prevent them from becoming cyber bullies, from giving out too much personal information, from making comments they’ll grow to regret, or from inviting hackers and threats into your personal computer?

Photo Credit: ToGa Wanderings via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: ToGa Wanderings via Compfight cc

The answer is: the same way you teach your children about any other social situation. You talk about actions and consequences, you set down rules, you watch your children’s behavior, and you apply discipline when necessary.

Actions and consequences

This goes back to the basic “sharing and hitting” lessons you taught during the toddler years: if you hit someone, that person gets hurt; if you bully someone on Facebook, that person’s feelings get hurt. Sometimes children don’t fully understand that the words they type into social media stay online for years. The target of their teasing or jokes will read and reread those words, feeling badly every time. 

Similarly, children need to understand that if they download links from unknown sources or give away their online login and password information, they are inviting hackers and threats into their computers. Tech safety is important, and as a parent you need to install internet security programs to protect your home computers from threats that enter your network via Facebook, Twitter or email. You also need to educate your children about safe links and safe social networking, and remind them that actions have consequences.

Rules

As a parent, you need to decide the internet and computer rules. Many parents require children to give them their social media passwords, so the parents can scan their children’s accounts every evening for bullying or inappropriate behavior. Whatever rules you choose to apply, make sure to follow through, otherwise the rules will quickly become meaningless.

Watch your children’s behavior

Even if you choose not to read your child’s Facebook page, it is important to watch your child’s behavior around social media. Does your child appear happier after using social networking programs, or sad? When your child uses the computer with friends, do they work together to bully other classmates, or do they exhibit more positive behaviors? Watching your child interact with the internet tells you a lot about what your child is doing online, and what skills your child still needs to learn.

Apply discipline

If your child breaks one of your internet or social networking rules, you need to apply the appropriate consequences. Likewise, some actions, such as introducing a virus into the computer, have disciplinary consequences even if there is no related rule. As a parent, you need to teach your child that there is acceptable and unacceptable behavior related to the computer, and that you are going to remove privileges if your child chooses to engage in unacceptable behaviors.

Teaching your children how to use social media is now an essential life skill, just like teaching children how to behave in public or show respect in the classroom. Like any life skill, expect a few bumps along the way. Use our previous article about keeping your family safe online as another teaching tool, and make sure you continue to communicate with your children about good social media behaviors. 

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