One reckless tweet, one mindless Snapchat, one thoughtless text message. That’s all it takes to derail a child’s dreams of going to college, winning a scholarship or landing an internship.
That reality, coupled with the amount of time kids spend on devices nowadays, can make parenting in the age of digital technology complicated and overwhelming.
More than half of teens saying they feel addicted to their cell phones, according to the nonprofit group CommonSense.org. And 45 percent say they are online almost constantly, according to Pew Research Center’s “Teens, Social Media & Technology 2018” report.
If you are concerned about your child’s online behavior, you are not alone. A 2014 survey titled “Parenting in the Age of Technology” conducted by Northwestern University’s Center on Media and Human Development found that the vast majority of parents say new media technologies make parenting more difficult. Almost 80 percent say it caused conflict in their home.
As the digital landscape continues to evolve, protecting your children from dangers online is becoming more complex. Social media presents new risks every day, ranging from cyberbullying to shielding children from predators, explicit adult material and scams.
But your child may also be engaging in other behaviors on social media that put his or her health and safety in jeopardy. Oversharing, giving into peer pressure and posting inappropriate content on social networking websites like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp or Snapchat can have serious consequences, including costing your child opportunities in the future.
The long-term consequences of children’s social media use
Consider this: Data from Kaplan Test Prep shows that 25 percent of college admissions counselors have looked at applicants’ social media accounts to learn more about them. Harvard University even went so far as to revoke offers from potential students after inappropriate posts were discovered on the students’ Facebook accounts.
This trend highlights a fundamental truth about the internet: What you post online lasts forever.
Engaging in behaviors like sexting or bullying schoolmates can have long-term personal and legal consequences that follow your child throughout her life. What gets posted online can be captured and shared, causing your child distressing problems like:
- Social alienation from friends
- Suspension from school
- Loss of scholarship opportunities
- Inability to secure employment
- Arrest or legal fines
Many children don’t realize the impact that inappropriate social media use can have on their lives and reputations. As a parent, it’s up to you to educate them about how to engage online wisely. Talk to your child about how using social media may affect her future. Having an open discussion sets a solid foundation for trust.
Four smart social media tips
Beyond having a candid conversation with your little one, what else can you do to encourage your child or teen to use social media wisely? Here are four ideas to consider.
1. Create a social media agreement. Establish a set of guidelines or ground rules around your child’s social media habits. For example, you may limit how much they spend online per day. Having your child promise to never taunt or harass others and be mindful about the photos they post can encourage positive behavior. The Family Online Safety Institute offers an example of a social media agreement you can customize here.
2. Be a good example. Refrain from posting rants or inappropriate material yourself. Teach your child respectful behavior by modeling how to be a good online citizen.
3. Stay ahead of the game. There are always new secret social media apps popping up, so educate yourself about how different networks function. Before allowing your child to use an app, vet the content for age appropriateness. Each of the major social networks—Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter—requires that users be at least 13 years old to create an account.
4. Activate parental filters and privacy settings. Keep your child’s content as private as possible so that her posts cannot be viewed publicly (and possibly used against her). You might consider purchasing a program that lets you monitor your child’s online activity, block chats and filter content. It’s also a good idea to keep the family computer in a visible part of the home so that you can keep an eye on activity.
You don’t need to spy on your child’s every move, but keeping tabs on online behavior is important. By considering these steps, you can help ensure protect your child and your child’s future.