I am someone who enjoys social media and appreciates the good that can come from it. However, I am fully aware of the dangers that my involvement in social media can have on my life. As parents, we want nothing more than to keep our children safe. In today’s world, that might be harder than just making sure they don’t get harmed by a stranger or hurt on the playing field. Access to the internet and more specifically social media can really open our children up to many new dangers. It is our job to not only be good role models for them, but to also equip them with the skills to stay safe online.
I am also someone that usually sees the cup half full. I don’t really worry about anyone trying to harm my family or I on a regular basis. Call me naïve, but I tend to think I am safe here in my own little corner of the world. With that said, I want to be informed and use caution to keep my babies (read: children – they will always be my babies) as innocent as possible. I hope you find that these tips are helpful so your littles can be safe, too.
The Age Debacle
I've talked with many friends and family about what I like to call “the great social media age debacle.” Many apps and some social media sites require that children be 13 years of age before they can create their own accounts. After a little research, it was easy to establish why this rule was put in place. Typically, by 13, children are old enough to understand how to safely use such websites and applications. They can understand that unwise decisions can lead to unwanted consequences. While some kids may understand this sooner than others, the rule is still 13.
What happens, then, when your child, who is very responsible, asks for you to create an account for them when they are only 11 or 12? In order to do so, you must enter a fictitious birth date so it appears that your child is older than he or she is. Essentially, you are lying. Is that permissible for your moral character? Parents will need to determine was is okay for them and their children. However, it does beg the question, if your child doesn’t have to follow the rules with social media, when does he or she need to follow rules?
Photos and Smart Phones
Recently, I spoke to a mom whose son received a citation for having topless pictures of a girl from his school on his phone. The boy did not take the pictures. The boy did not share the pictures. He merely opened a file that was sent to him on a social media application and didn’t report it. You don’t have to look very far at all to find stories like this in the media.
This is no laughing matter. Smart phones have cameras and while cameras can preserve memories for years to come, they can also be devastating if not used appropriately. Kids growing up in society today have so much more at their fingertips than I ever did. Social media has exploded in ways that many people, including myself, will never understand. When a picture or words are shared on social networks, they are there forever and it is virtually impossible to permanently delete them. If it is questionable content, it doesn’t need to be shared.
Usernames and Passwords
It is very important that parents know all of their children’s usernames and passwords. Not only should you have this information, but you should also use it to log into their phones, computers, and other devices on a regular basis. I don’t mean once a year either. I’m talking about once a month or once a week. You can call me overprotective or tell me that you trust your kid, but my recommendation will not change. Dig and if something looks off, dig deeper.
It isn’t just mischievous kids that we have to worry about here. It’s the perpetrators that prey on inexperienced children a
nd teens through social media avenues. I know it’s yucky and not something we think we ever happen to us…until it does. Like me, I’m guessing you don’t want to walk around with guilt for the rest of your days. Like the old wives tale says, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Maybe those old wives were onto something.
When I first heard about this on the Today Show, I was a little surprised, but not really shocked. I’ve come the conclusion that anything is possible with the right technology. Ghost apps are applications that are intended to hide other apps or files. For example, a person could hide pornographic images by making the file appear as if it was a calculator. Basically, these ghost apps have decoy icons so that parents won’t check into them.
When you are checking your child’s phone, don’t be fooled by icons that could merely be hiding something they don’t want you to know they have. Click on everything. Log in to every application. Scroll through each profile like you are Olivia Benson on Law and Order. Don’t risk it! Know what you are looking for and don’t assume your child is innocent even though you want to give him or her the benefit of the doubt. If you are a parent, then you know how stupid kids can be because you were one.
I know that you want to have a relationship with your son or daughter. We all do. However, don’t miss an opportunity to get to know him or her better. Don’t let life get so busy that you barely have time to breathe, let alone have a conversation with your kiddo. Take each one of them for dinner once in a while and really talk. Tell the kids stories about how things were when you were young. Explain what your hopes and fears are for them. Don’t be afraid to tell them no. It really won’t harm them to hear that.
My favorite moments with my kids often come when we sit and chat individually. I learn things about them that I wouldn’t otherwise find out. I decided a long time ago that I wasn’t going to be my kids’ friend. No, they have plenty of those people in their lives. My desire is to be their parent. I want them to know that I love them so deeply that no matter how badly they screw up, I will be there for them. I may not always comfort them when they make stupid mistakes, but I will always be waiting for them after the consequences are finished.
Do you know what I reflect on the most as a mom? I often wonder if I have modeled what it means to be a good person. I'm worried about whether or not our discussions will be enough to remind them how to handle hard situations. I could sit here all day and write for hours about hoping and wishing and praying for them. However, the truth is that if I don’t put in the time and effort, there is no way I am expect them to be responsible, kind humans. While many of their decisions will be just that, the teaching that helped them to make those decisions is my responsibility. And friends, that is one responsibility that I do not and will not take lightly.