It seems like there’s a new, trendy social media application every day. As a father of six “connected kids,” I face the same challenges many parents are facing:

  • How do we teach our kids about the safety of social media?
  • How do we make them aware that their digital footprint is growing by the minute and will follow them their entire lives?
  • How do we manage the delicate balancing act of monitoring their safety and giving them individual freedom without being overbearing? 

Social Media Gives Kids Validation

What is the draw to social media by kids? Social media allows kids, and many adults, to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance. They gain validation from the number of likes and comments on their various posts. In a way, it’s really not so different from the validation we sought as kids – from our parents, family members, friends, teachers, coaches and community members, except we received it in person. Unfortunately, a lot of in-person communication has gone by the wayside and has been replaced by snaps, tweets, texts, likes, comments, emojis or whatever is hip now. Unfortunately, today’s kids don’t just receive validation, they can also face ridicule and even bullying from their peers via social media.

The anonymity of many of these social media applications not only allows kids to bully their peers, it also gives predators access to children. Many of these apps have minimal standards for verifying age and even fewer maintain control over age-appropriate content. When profiles ask a user to enter personal information such as age, birthdate, address, location, activities and interests, it makes it easier for this information to fall into the wrong hands.

How Can We Protect Our Children

Many organizations, from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and most federal, state and local law enforcement agencies work tirelessly to protect our children from online predators. These efforts are also supported by religious organizations like the National Catholic Risk Retention Group (NCRRG), who recently posted this on the topic: “Have you thought about the consequences of some of the posts from young people you know that may haunt them one day in the future? Not only that but also how much information do they unknowingly (or knowingly) share about who they are, their struggles and where they live? These are safety risks benefiting people who seek to exploit the children in our midst.”

It’s helpful that there are organizations working to thwart predators and to help guide parents but it’s a team effort. As responsible parents, we should create our own social media accounts and educate ourselves on the content our children are sharing and the interactions they are having online. In short, we should understand:

  • What types of individuals are engaging our children in conversations within these social media applications?
  • What are the expectations of our children as a passive or active participant?
  • What is actually being conveyed in the conversation?

By understanding and actually using these social media apps, we are able to have authentic, healthy conversations with our children and teach them on how to protect themselves against online and off-line predators. Communicating via mobile devices has changed the use of the traditional language for the younger generations. If you’re having difficulty interpreting the slang and acronyms growing in popularity, check out:

The list of social media applications is extensive, but I have included links to help guides for three particularly popular sites for pre-teens, tweens, and teens:

Do your due diligence, learn what social media applications your children are using and educate yourself on the specifics of those applications. Knowledge is power, and in this case, necessary to protect our children.

When tweets turn to threats: learn more about the risks.
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