Social Media 101: How to Keep Kids Safe

Staff Writer
Baystateparent Magazine

By Justine O’Brien

Deciding when to let your children access social media platforms can be a little overwhelming, but Scott Steinberg, author of The Modern Parent’s Guide to Facebook and Social Networks, says parents can take simple steps to navigate the ever-changing digital landscape.

If parents feel overwhelmed when it comes to social media and their children, what is their first step?

The first thing parents need to do is research social networks and get a grip on what they’re capable of. When they do that, they’ll see that most social networks are not that hard to navigate, and you’ll know how to use about 70% of them after you’ve done this. It’s important to set household rules — what’s OK to use and when, who to interact with and when, and making sure these are healthy, positive conversations. Parents need to show their kids that they are open to listening to what they have to say.

What would surprise parents about social media today?

Parents may be surprised by all of the positive influences. Social media offers a chance to meet people or learn about other cultures and information that they would otherwise not have the chance to; it’s a whole world of opportunities. Parents need to understand that [the internet] is a tool, and their experience is defined by how well you know how to use that tool. When not under watchful eyes, a determined kid is going to get around any safeguard. We need to educate kids to make smart decisions. Kids are going to encounter questionable stuff online when they’re not monitored.

What should be parents’ biggest concerns?

Lack of education and awareness. When the cat’s away, the mice tend to play.

What are up-and-coming apps/social media platforms people need to look out for in terms of their children?

I try not to single out any specific platform. There are a million music video apps or communication apps, like kik or whatsapp. The main point is that developers are constantly creating new sorts of socials. Parents should try to stay on top of who their kids are interacting with online.

How do parents decide when/what age to allow kids on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Snapchat/etc.?

Most social media platforms advise that children can have access around age 13. It is generally still the parents’ decision, as they have a good idea as to how responsible their child is. It is important to set guidelines and rules, such as not bringing a smartphone back to their room. It’s up to the parent to decide when they feel their children are mature enough to handle these guidelines.

Social media is constantly changing, how can parents stay on top of it?

It’s important to remember that homework isn’t just for kids, it’s for parents, too. They have the chance to research insight and access to support groups and other online tools.

What are the best practices for parents’ monitoring their kids’ social media use?

You have to monitor, it’s not an “if,” it’s a have. It’s best to discuss this with your kids and to let them know you will be checking in on them. It’s also important to set those parental controls and guidelines. You can install software to monitor their actions, but it’s also important to respect their boundaries.

Any final thoughts that parents should remember?

The most important thing to remember is that social networks can be a tool for good. [Digital life] is not going away, and as parents we need to make sure we are involved in the digital aspects of their life, as well. It’s a much bigger playground.