Talking to your kids about social media is extremely important in our digital world. This will set the stage for a strong child-parent relationship and help keep them safe from potential online dangers. Jennifer Katzenstein, Ph.D., director of psychology and neuropsychology, and Petra Vybiralova, Florida Suncoast Safe Kids supervisor from Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, provide parents with five tips to keep their kids safe.
Communicate with your kids about their social media habits
Have a conversation and set boundaries and expectations with your child or teen about their phone use. Modeling good phone etiquette and boundaries such as being friends only with the people you know is also important. Prioritize safety and support, but also try a nonjudgmental approach. Be clear about any photos that may be sent, and what that means, legally and remind them, what goes online stays online or can be shared easily, even if it is “taken down.”
Set ground rules
Parents should have full access to a child’s phone, including all apps and passwords. As a family, social media rules should be decided upon together and may include things like only letting people follow or “friend” if you know them, never giving out personal information, and allowing parents full access to the phone a few times a week. Shutting the phone off at a certain time each night is not only beneficial for having a healthy relationship with social media, but also for high-quality sleep. Make sure to discuss social media citizenship and how we treat each other online. Also, when setting up the rules, the consequences should also be discussed. One clear consequence is taking away the phone, or removal of another privilege, for a period of time, and then closer monitoring once the phone is returned
Find out what apps your kids are using
Everything that is downloaded on the phone, should be discussed. Apps that have interaction with others should especially be discussed.
Beware of hidden dangers of gaming apps
Some gaming apps allow kids to start simple game-related conversations with another player. The people on the other side can start to feel like a real friend and the “friend” and could lead to private messaging. Location apps can also select people to contact based on the mobile device’s location and potentially pose a risk. Many applications are updated often and change their logos. There are even apps that look like a calculator and can help hide conversations, photo and video sharing.
Monitor your child or teen’s online activity
Some service providers offer family plans that allow for parents to be able to monitor their child’s online activity. Your phone also may have options in settings to monitor the child’s screen time, how and when the phone or apps being used, and may offer additional apps that will allow you to view what your child is installing. Become familiar with the app before the child installs it. Each installed app may have its own privacy settings that will allow the parent and the child to set up boundaries that reflect their family values. There are also paid subscription apps that can help with monitoring needs.
Social media provides opportunities for kids and adolescents to make connections across the world, learn things about other cultures and have supports from those who may have similar interests. It raises awareness, promotes wellness information and makes social connections. As parents, it is our responsibility to be good role models and ensure our kids are safe while providing the structure and expectations necessary.
Visit hopkinsallchildrens.org/newsroom for more pediatric health and safety information.