Today’s teens and “tweens” are connected to one another, and to the
world, via digital technology more than any previous generation. Recent
data suggests that social media (SM) venues like Facebook and MySpace
have surpassed e-mail as the preferred method of communication in all
age groups. While today’s tweens and teens may be more digitally savvy
than their parents, their lack of maturity and life experience can
quickly get them into trouble with these new social venues. For this
reason, it is imperative that parents talk with their children of all
ages about social media and monitor their online SM use to help them
navigate this new online social world. How parents talk with their kids
and teens will vary slightly by age depending on the topic being
discussed. These tips will help you start that journey with your
these technologies first hand. There is simply no better way than to
have a profile yourself. It will also enable you to "friend" your kids
and monitor them on line.
Let them know that their use of technology is something you want and need to know about.
For kids of all ages, ask daily: “Have you used the computer and the Internet today?”
use will vary by age. Tweens are likely to be using more instant
messaging and texting, while teens use those technologies and also
networking sites such as Facebook. (These tools often are referred to
as “platforms” for social networking.) Ask daily how your family used
those tools with questions such as: “What did you write on Facebook
today?” “Any new chats recently?” “Anyone text you today?”
Share a bit about your daily SM use as a way to facilitate daily conversation about your kids’ online habits.
Get your kids talking about their SM lives if you can just so you know what they are doing.
computer in a public part of your home, such as the family room or
kitchen, so that you can check on what your kids are doing online and
how much time they are spending there.
other parents about what their kids of similar ages are using for SM.
Ask your kids about those technologies as a starting point for
discussion. If they are in the same peer group, there is a good chance
they are all using the same platforms together. For example:
“Mrs. Smith told me Jennifer uses Facebook. Is that something you’ve
thought of doing? Do you already have a profile? If so, I’d like to see
and older elementary school kids: “Are you planning on meeting up with
kids on Club Penguin today? I’d love to see how that works.” Or, “Let’s
look at your text log today together. I’d like to see who’s been
For all ages,
emphasize that everything sent over the Internet or a cell phone can be
shared with the entire world, so it is important they use good judgment
in sending messages and pictures and set privacy settings on social
media sites appropriately.
kids of every age what “good judgment” means and the consequences of
poor judgment, ranging form minor punishment to possible legal action
in the case of “sexting” (see below) or bullying.
make a point of discouraging kids from gossiping, spreading rumors,
bullying or damaging someone’s reputation using texting or other
To keep kids
safe, have your kids and teens show you where the privacy features are
for every SM venue they are using. The more private, the less likely
inappropriate material will be received by your child, or sent to their
circle of acquaintances.
Be aware of
the ages of use for sites your tweens and older elementary school kids
want to use, including game sites such as ‘Club Penguin’ and ‘Webkins.’
Many sites are for age 13 and older, and the sites for younger kids do
require parental consent to use.
Be sure you
are where your kids are online: IM, Facebook, MySpace, etc. Have a
policy requiring that you and your child “friend” each other. This is
one way of showing your child you are there, too, and will provide a
check and balance system by having an adult within arm’s reach of their
profile. This is important for kids of all ages, including teens.
Show your kids you know how to use what they are using, and are willing to learn what you may not know how to do.
strategy for monitoring your kids’ online SM use, and be sure you follow
through. Some families may check once a week and others more
sporadically. You may want to say “Today I’ll be checking your computer
and cell phone.” The older your kids are, the more often you may need
formal monitoring systems to track your child’s email, chat, IM and
image content. Parental controls on your computer or from your Internet
service provider, Google Desktop or commercial programs are all
limits for Internet and cell phone use. Learn the warning signs of
trouble: skipping activities, meals and homework for SM; weight loss or
gain; a drop in grades. If these issues are occurring due to your
child being online when they should be eating, sleeping, participating
in school or social activities, your child may have a problem with
Internet or SM addiction. Contact your pediatrician for advice if any
of these symptoms are occurring.
logs, emails, files and social networking profiles for inappropriate
content, friends, messages, and images periodically. Be transparent
and let your kids know what you are doing.
can be dangerous--even deadly. Be sure to stress to teens the
importance of not texting, Facebooking, using the phone, listening to
ear buds or earphones, or engaging in similarly distracting activities
while driving. These forms of distracted driving are illegal in many
states because they are so dangerous. And caution kids of all ages about
using mobile devices while walking, biking, babysitting or doing
other things that require their full attention.
The New Problem of “Sexting”
“Sexting” refers to sending a text message with pictures of children or
teens that are inappropriate, naked or engaged in sex acts. According
to a recent survey, about 20 percent of teen boys and girls have sent
such messages. The emotional pain it causes can be enormous for the
child in the picture as well as the sender and receiver--often with
legal implications. Parents must begin the difficult conversation about
sexting before there is a problem and introduce the issue as soon as a
child is old enough to have a cell phone. Here are some tips for how
to begin these conversations with your children:
Talk to your
kids, even if the issue hasn’t directly impacted your community. “Have
you heard of sexting?” “Tell me what you think it is.” For the initial
part of the conversation, it is important to first learn what your
child’s understanding is of the issue and then add to it an age
appropriate explanation (see next bullet).
appropriate for your child’s age. For younger children with cell phones
who do not yet know about sex, alert them that text messages should
never contain pictures of people--kids or adults--without their clothes
on, kissing or touching each other in ways that they’ve never seen
before. For older children, use the term “sexting” and give more
specifics about sex acts they may know about. For teens, be very
specific that “sexting” often involves pictures of a sexual nature and
is considered pornography.
Make sure kids
of all ages understand that sexting is serious and considered a crime
in many jurisdictions. In all communities, if they “sext”, there will
be serious consequences, quite possibly involving the police,
suspension from school, and notes on the sexter’s permanent record that
could hurt their chances of getting into college or getting a job.
noted that peer pressure can play a major role in the sending of texts,
with parties being a major contributing factor. Collecting cell phones
at gatherings of tweens and teens is one way to reduce this
headlines and the news for stories about “sexting” that illustrate the
very real consequences for both senders and receivers of these images.
“Have you seen this story?” “What did you think about it?” “What would
you do if you were this child?” Rehearse ways they can respond if asked
to participate in inappropriate texting.
Encourage school and town assemblies to educate parents, teachers and students.
Posted: June 2009
Updated: March 2, 2011
American Academy of Pediatrics Internet safety site
Girl Scouts: Hey That’s My Privacy
FTC social networking safety tips
Talking about sexting in schools