Article categories: news. - Posted on: March 31, 2016. - Read more News, Events and Training stories

Kids and Social Media – Keeping them Safe

Watch the video to get valuable online safety tips from Steve Doerner, NOVA’s Victim Advocate Coordinator.

In fairness, it’s completely understandable.  For some parents who were born and raised in a world more familiar with a telegram than Instagram, social media can seem to be an incoherent and manufactured world of selfies, games, and other childish nonsense. For others, it may seem a great way for their children to occupy themselves on long car rides, rainy days, and to build technological communication skills that are much needed in today’s world.  Regardless of perspective, one concept remains constant; your children aren’t talking to a screen.

For our children, social media is an instantaneous pipeline to unlimited information, imagery and video, each other, and most alarmingly the rest of the world. It is their social lifeline, yet is at the root of many of their greatest anxieties.   Routinely I have the unique perspective of hearing the stories of children who have experienced victimizations of varying types and severities in which social media was either the vehicle or the weapon with which they were harmed.  Often on those same days, I witness young children and adolescents in various settings drawn to their tablets, smartphones, and laptops, intensely focused on the game, app, or conversation that is currently occupying them.  They look engaged, happy, content, and they feel safe, but unfortunately we know there are real life dangers in that digital world.

Observing both the harsh reality of the dangers of social media, as well as the casual and nonchalant nature with which children utilize these tools, has exposed to me an ever growing need for the active presence of safe adults, parents and caretakers in the world of social media.  Parents and adults in the lives of children should be “in the know”, involved, and maintain an open dialogue with children about their online lives.  Disinterest or unfamiliarity should no longer be the scapegoat for a laissez faire social media policy for our children, the stakes are too high.  I conclude by listing and refuting some common misconceptions that I often hear from parents with respect to their child’s social media use.  If you’re reading this, you’re on the right track.

  1. Children Won’t Talk about Social Media With Adults:   Children are resistant to being talked at or lectured about social media, especially by someone who doesn’t even know what a hashtag is.  However, if you show a genuine interest, they love teaching you about social media.  It’s one of very few areas of their lives where they are the experts.  Ask questions, you might learn something. 
  2. My Child’s Facebook is Clean: If monitoring your child’s Facebook account is your gauge for assessing their online activity, you’re already way behind.  Learn about current social media trends and be up to date on the most current platforms used by young people.  Learn the names, icons, how they work, and why children enjoy them. This gives you credibility when guiding your child in their use.
  3. My Child only Plays Games Online: Don’t be fooled.  Today, online gaming and social media are virtually synonymous.  An overwhelming majority of online games have communication components to interact with other users.   These can just as easily be a platform for cyberbullying or internet predators as any other form of social media.
  4. My Child Wouldn’t Meet Someone They Met Online in Person: Predators are experts in manipulation and grooming. They build trust over time, establish mutual interests and contacts, and often misrepresent their own age.  While your child may be well briefed on “stranger danger”, that doesn’t equip them for someone they view as a “friend” or a peer.
  5. Children Need to Leave the Home in order to be victimized: As unsettling as it may be, children can be victimized within the comfort and security of their own home, 24 hours per day, without your knowledge. They can be exposed to inappropriate content, imagery, or conversation or harassed or bullied without ever leaving the couch in your common room. 
  6. Taking the technology away will solve the problem: If we feel children are misusing or not being safe with social media, our knee-jerk reaction is to take the device or technology away from the child. While this may seem an obvious solution and can work for some, it can also drive the activity underground and remove only YOU from the equation.  Children will access social media, and if routinely threatened with losing their device, may choose not to seek guidance from you when having a troubling experience online.

Steve Doerner
Steve@novabucks.org
Victim Advocate Coordinator
Network of Victim Assistance (NOVA)

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