Digital natives, children, and teenagers who have grown up in the age of the internet and social media, are among everyone. And their use of it is as normal as drinking water to quench thirst.
“You can’t really separate online living — social media — from the daily fabric of kid’s lives,” said Jaime Perry-Hudson, of New Parent Support Program on Henderson Hall who has worked in the mental health industry as an in-home therapist. “They’re using it constantly in their free time, they’re using it to get things done at school, (and) to get their homework done. We are all nomads, but they’re all natives; they don’t know a world without social media.”
In an age where social media use is so normal, how do inexperienced adults assist children and teenagers with the skills to navigate virtual communities with prudence?
Perry-Hudson suggested parents ask themselves two critical questions: How can they teach their children to use it in a way that is going to keep them safe? And How can they be taught to use it in a way that is beneficial?
Perry-Hudson said for military children, social media use is important and beneficial because they can use it to stay in contact with friends in states or neighborhoods where they once resided. They can also use it as a way of getting to know their new communities.
“They can (use social media) to plug into their new communities sometimes even faster by getting to know what’s available,” she said.
Parents, Perry-Hudson said, should enter into a conversation with their teenagers about benefits as well as the dangers social media use. It is speaking to them about posting appropriate and inappropriate content online, she said. For example, she said parents can show their teenagers examples of what their peers post online. In addition to this, parents should discuss with them the dangers of posting their location to social media.
“(When this is done) other people know where you are,” she said. “Not everybody in the world is looking out for your best interest, unfortunately. And sometimes there are people out there that are looking for someone to prey on and so we want (teenagers) to protect themselves from that.”
In this context, Perry-Hudson said, it’s important for teenagers, as well as adults, to know that they don’t have to “let everybody know what they are doing.”
“Once you put something out there, it’s out there, you can’t take it back,” she said.
But, it’s not about one conversation. It’s about having an open and continual dialogue with teenagers about the intersection of personal values and social media. Parents need to effectively communicate their values as well as trying to understand their teenager’s values and goals of social media use, she said.
For example, Perry-Hudson said sometimes teenagers use social media to meet new friends. She pointed out that it would be helpful for parents to let their teenagers know that this may not be a healthy goal to have when it comes to using social media because people use avatars to hide behind and therefore are not representing their true selves online. Perry-Hudson said the continual aspect of the dialogue is important because sometimes teenagers’ values change as they grow and, “sometimes teenagers (tend) not to listen the first time you say things.
“Repetition can be really important,” she said.
There are other modes of media parents can use as a way to engage their children in dialogue. There are movies and news articles that show teenagers using social media responsibly as well as irresponsibly. Perry-Hudson said using that media as a segue to have a conversation is a positive thing and can be a great time spark a conversation. Parents should discuss with their children about sharing their friend’s content, said Perry-Hudson. It is about making sure they understand the concept of ownership and how they don’t get to take that right away from someone else. She said it is not right for a teenager to take a picture of someone else’s family, for example, and post it to social media without their consent.
“They may have a reason they don’t want it out there,” she said “(By sharing it on social media) you have just taken the option away from them.”
It is also good, she said, to set up privacy settings for children, which can be set up with internet providers. Setting these restrictions can screen out things that can be searched for and popups on the internet, she said. Parents can also change the settings on their personal computer. She advises parents to put age-appropriate user restrictions on laptops and iPads that will only allow children and teenagers to use certain apps. Perry-Hudson added that parents should consider enforcing and abiding by social media age restrictions. If parents are allowing their underage children to create a social media account, then they are allowing them to violate the rules, she explained.
“Parents need to really think about what kind of the precedent they’re setting when the first step of getting on there isn’t the truth,” she said.
Note: Should parents experience ongoing conflict around social media or other parenting concerns, Perry-Hudson recommends they reach out to their Community Counseling Services and/or New Parent Support Program for further guidance and support.
Pentagram Staff Writer Delonte Harrod can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.