Parents today are truly pioneers in parenting during the internet age. I imagine that parenting faced a similar challenge when paper and pen became readily available, and again when the telephone became a ubiquitous household item. Now, we face a new challenge with how to wisely use social media. Why this is a unique challenge is that parents are learning these rules for themselves at the same time they are setting guidelines for their children. Parents are realizing that rules around social media are needed because even though it’s in “cyberspace,” what is said and done there has real-life consequences.
Pew Internet Research (pewinternet.org) has found that 95% of all teens ages 12-17 are regularly online. Furthermore, 81% of those teens are regularly on social media such as facebook, twitter, instragram, snapchat, and of course texting. The typical teen sends and receives 30 texts a day. For females the number is closer to 40 a day, which fits with the commonly observed phenomena of girls talking more than boys. Did you notice I didn’t mention email? Email is not the realm of communication for teens – it takes too long.
People communicate – its human nature. Its what we do. The challenge parents are facing with the new means of communication available to everyone is this: what is being communicated and what effect is it having? Oversharing, cyberbullying, and “drama” are just a few of the top issues that need to be addressed. The consequences are real and longstanding when we underestimate the power of the written word in a text or the photo or video posted online. Its not uncommon to hear about students being suspended or adults being fired from their jobs because of what they posted or said on social media.
What we need are some practical guidelines for communication online. Here are some examples that you might want to use in your home:
- Be respectful always. If you wouldn’t say it to their face, don’t say it or text it. Period.
- Commit to not posting or texting anything when angry. You’ll thank yourself later for your restraint in this regard.
- Never expect privacy in communicating online. Always assume your texts and pictures can easily become public. If you truly want privacy, then say it face to face in a private setting.
- Always ask permission before you take a picture or video of someone or post someone’s picture/video online or share it via text.
- Don’t use social media to make yourself feel better or make someone else feel worse.
- Privacy is a privilege that is earned through trust and periodically tested by your parents.
- Parents, lead by example with these rules.
For more in-depth information and guidelines for parents on managing media, please visit commonsensemedia.org.