Kids and Social Networks: What Children Need to Know

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In October 2010 TRUSTe announced the results of a nationwide survey of both parents and their teens investigating their privacy habits and preferences on social networks. What they found was that, for the most part, “the kids are alright,” noting a majority of teens use privacy controls on social networks and that most parents actively monitor their teen’s privacy.  But there’s still room for improvement, with more than 2/3rds of teens admitting they’d accepted a Facebook friend request from someone they didn’t know, and nearly 1 in 10 teens admitting to accepting all friend requests they receive, pointing to the need for more education around kids and social networks.

Unfortunately, examples of what NOT to do on social networks seem all too common. Whether it’s posting inappropriate videos, an abundance of pictures with alcohol prominently involved, or generally distasteful updates, employers and schools are keeping an eye on what the employees and students are doing, and disciplining those who act inappropriately. And there are also some potentially grave and dangerous consequences to misuse and abuse of social networks.  Consider the case of Tyler Clementi, a homosexual teen who committed suicide after his roommate posted videos of his sexual encounters on Twitter.

But don’t be scared by these instances.  Social networks are now an important part of your child’s development.  A 2011 clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics entitled “The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents and Families” finds that a large part of this generation’s social and emotional development is occurring while using social networks.  The report lists a number of benefits for kids from being connected, such as better engagement with friends, family and community; enhanced learning opportunities via collaboration; connections with like-minded teens; and enhancement of creativity. Tellingly, the study also found that 22 percent of teenagers log onto their favorite social media sites more than 10 times a day. 

Naturally, kids need to be empowered to realize that they can shape their own image on these social networks, and use these services in positive ways.

Once they’re using social networks, the platform can serve as an amplifier for the information your kids decide to share or interact with.  Facebook spokesperson Marian Heath says that she hears from people all the time that Facebook is a place where there kids can get in trouble.  But she urges parents and teens to turn that around, because it doesn’t have to be that way.

“You can build your own image,” Heath says.  “Post the good things you’re doing and share your interests.  Have conversations online so folks can find out what’s interesting to you.  Ask friends about books you’re reading, plays you’re interested in.”  Instead of focusing on the negative or gossipy aspects, use the service to shape your online image how you want to.

Tell your teens they don’t need to be afraid to connect with you.  Remind them that you don’t want to interfere with or embarrass them, you just want to make sure they’re making good choices, just like in real life.  And even though kids may want to “hide” things you’re posting from parents, the reality is that in today’s world once information is made available, it’s out there forever.  So forcing kids to have a confirming thought of “do I want my mom to see this?” prior to anything they post actually isn’t a bad thing.

Although no one knows exactly what the future holds, chances are your kids will be applying to colleges after high school, and soon after that entering the work force.  In the future, those making life-changing decisions about your child’s life are sure to examine their social media profiles in addition to any other information they’ve made public.  So remind kids that the things they post now can and likely will be used against them, even if it’s five or ten years down the line.

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About author

Johner Riehl

Johner Riehl is a freelance writer focusing on families, technology and online safety. As founder and editorial director for FamilyFriendlyApps.com and FamilyFriendlyVideoGames.com, sites that provide reviews and recommendations geared towards families, he examines hundreds of family-friendly games and apps every year. He’s also host of Parent Savers, a podcast aimed at helping parents of newborns, infants and toddlers. TWITTER: @FamilyTechDad

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