A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Social media safety for today’s teens

Illustration of a family all using a device – Media use safety

Social media is an essential part of life for today’s teens.

How do we know that? About 75 percent of teens have a profile on a social networking site, according to KidsHealth.org.

While you want your kids to grow up tech-savvy, you’re probably leery of the content and people they’ll find online.

Smart social media use means monitoring kids’ digital diets and teaching them to make wise choices.

Talk about media use

Ask your kids about websites, apps and social media platforms they’re interested in, said Dr. James Meyer, an adolescent medicine physician at Marshfield Clinic. Young children often are eager to explain how media works and share what they’re doing online.

“Don’t assume you’re up to date on what your kids are doing,” Meyer said. “Keep an ongoing conversation about their media use.”

Talk to kids when they’re young about what kind of content is and isn’t okay for them to view and share. If you come across concerning content, ask why they’re interested in it, explain why you’re worried and try to think of safer ways they can satisfy their curiosity.

Find a comfortable balance between checking your kids’ media use and trusting them to follow safety rules.

“You have an obligation as a parent to keep your kids safe, but being Big Brother can push teens to become more secretive,” Meyer said.

Set expectations for connected kids

Setting guidelines for social media use shows kids you want to keep them safe while respecting their privacy.

Consider creating a contract in which kids agree to follow these rules from KidsHealth.org for a safe online experience:

  • Be nice. Make it clear you expect your kids to treat people respectfully online and never post hurtful messages about others.
  • Think twice before pressing enter. Remind teens that unintended audiences, like grandparents, teachers and bosses may see their posts. People can use their posts to harm or embarrass them and deleted messages can stay in circulation if someone takes a screenshot.
  • Use privacy settings. Use privacy settings to limit who can see kids’ content and communicate with them. They shouldn’t post private information like their location and phone number.
  • Don’t “friend” strangers or respond to messages from people you don’t know.

Beware of bullies, predators

Let kids know they can come to you if they encounter something inappropriate online, like bullying or messages from strangers.

Talk to children about their strengths to help them improve their self-image. Bullying is not about them, but about problems the bully may be having. Your child may need a break from the site or app if bullying continues.

Report the incident to police if your child is experiencing severe bullying or you suspect an adult is contacting your child. Many police departments have officers who work on internet crimes involving minors.

Be a digital role model

Spending every spare moment on your digital device shows kids that being constantly connected is okay. Show kids they can have fun without technology by taking time to exercise and have face-to-face conversations.

“Kids who learn communication skills will be more successful at job interviews when they will need to look people in the eyes, read social cues and think about how they’re going to respond,” Meyer said.

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