Today’s teens love social media as a way to connect with friends and share their passions and interests with others. However, responsibly using social media is something that goes beyond a teen with a new smartphone. Parents should help teens with responsible social media use because misuse can result in a range of issues and problems. Here are some topics that parents absolutely must make sure their teens know more about in order to become responsible social media users:
The privacy settings on social media accounts are there for a reason—to prevent anyone from accessing someone’s information. Even though teens may think it is fun to share passwords and account names, they must understand that it opens up the doors for everything from harmless pranks to more serious violations of trust and boundaries. The only way for teens’ social media accounts to stay secure is to keep them completely private, allowing the privacy settings to do their job.
Teens may view social media platforms as a way to express what they are thinking in the moment, connect instantly with friends and then move on—never gaining a full understanding of the permanence of information on the internet. Text messages, photos and more never really disappear once they are posted online. Teens should understand that they should never post anything online that they wouldn’t want everyone around them to see or read. A good rule of thumb on this is to think before every post if the content is something they would want their grandmother or their younger sibling to see. If not, don’t post it.
Cyberbullying is a growing problem among teens that use social media, and extreme cases of bullying have contributed to teen suicide. Most teens report that they have witnessed some form of cyberbullying in the past year. In order to use social media responsibly, teens should have a clear understanding of what cyberbullying looks like and the steps they can take to get help in dealing with bullies before it’s too late. They should also know the steps to take to report any cyberbullying they witness. Recent laws enacted in many states have criminalized cyberbullying, so there are real consequences for these cruel action.
Part of a teenager’s understanding of the permanence of any data put out onto social media includes knowing that certain organizations use the internet as a resource. For example, law enforcement agencies often check out social media for more information and insight into illegal activities that teens document. Social media photos and texts can help law enforcement recreate timelines, prove alibis and more. Another example is a teen’s current school. The school might choose to monitor social media accounts to ensure that enrollment standards are being met. Finally, college admissions counselors have been known to gain insight, both positive and negative, into applicants by looking them up on social media. Teens should always remember that lots of organizations use Facebook to their advantage, so they should only post neutral or positive events.
A predators is anyone looking to take advantage of another. Predators use social media to identify and build “relationships” with potential victims. Whether a predator is after financial information such as PIN numbers, or wants to pursue an inappropriate relationship, teens must be informed about a predator’s tactics. With chat rooms, texting, and private social media groups, it’s very possible for teens to carry on extended, intimate conversations with strangers without parents knowing.
Teens are likely going to use social media with or without a parent’s guidance. Therefore, parents should take the time to talk with them about signification issues related to social media and help them identify ways that they can choose responsible social media use.
Tyler Clark is a freelance writer with expertise in parenting, child development and family dynamics. He urges parents everywhere to teach their teens how to use social media responsibly.