Supporting Parents. Fostering Change.

Keeping Your Kids Safe Online

Dear Cathi,

I need your help.  My 6th grader is begging for me to allow her to open an Instagram account.  Sienna says she is totally left out because the only way her friends communicate with each other is through Instagram. I don’t know how Instagram works.  Is she old enough to have an Instagram account?  She is only 11. How do I make sure she doesn’t get cyber-bullied?  As you can see, I am really resisting crossing this bridge into social communication.  Any advice you can give me will be much appreciated.

Sincerely,
Angie

Dear Angie,

There is no doubt that the internet, and social media in particular, has had a huge impact on the social and emotional development of children and teens. At In Step, I see children who struggle with the negative consequences of social networking (i.e., cyber-bullying, identity fraud, and scamming), but I also see children who would be completely socially isolated without the internet. Ten or fifteen years ago, these children had virtually no social exposure outside of school. Now they have opportunities to make connections and develop social competencies online.
There is much to consider in weighing the pros and cons of allowing children to have their own Facebook, Instagram, or Tumblr account, not the least of which is that these sites do not allow those under a specific age to register for an account. I don’t recommend that you lie for your child in order to sign up for one of these services. But even if your child is old enough to join, you may decide not to allow him to. As the parent, you decide what is best for your child.  These tips have been taken from the adapted version of my book Raise Your Child’s Social IQ.  I think they may help you figure how to proceed with Sienna.

Social Communication Safety Tips

Trust Yourself
Consider the notion of waiting for privileges — like owning a cell phone or signing up for a social media account. There are inherent benefits to delaying gratification. Just because your child wants to sign up right now doesn’t mean they need to.
Follow Social Media Site Guidelines
Many of these sites have age restrictions for a reason. Don’t allow your child to talk you into opening an account for them by lying about their age.
Keep the Screens in Your Home Close By
Make sure your TV, computer, and cell phones are located where you can casually monitor your child’s online activities.
Discuss Online Social Behavior Openly
Review together appropriate vs. inappropriate online behavior. If possible, begin this dialogue prior to opening an email or social networking account for your child. Setting guidelines in advance will make it easier for you in the long run.
Keep Tabs on Your Child’s Online Activities
Learn your child’s username and occasionally check your child’s profiles, webpages, and blog.
Discourage Secretive Behavior on Your Child’s Part and Also on Your Own
Tell your child that their friend lists, personal website, and communications are being monitored.
Stay Involved but Not Invasive
If your child asks you not to post on their Facebook account, be respectful and don’t do it. When a child feels exposed, they may resort to secretive behavior. You don’t want to inadvertently encourage your child to open a separate Facebook account that you don’t know about.
Become an Online Native
If you don’t understand how the world of social media works, you won’t be able to help your child gauge the dangers and consequences of their behavior.

Your child’s online social world is changing all the time.  I know it is difficult to keep pace with your daughter.  By beginning your process of understanding now, you communicate to Sienna you are there to help guide her as her social world changes.

Keep me posted as to your progress!

This article from Common Sense Media provides some  additional tips for navigating social media with your child.

Enjoy,

Cathi Cohen, LCSW, CGP

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