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Social networking sites are a big part of most teenagers’ social lives. You might worry about what your child is doing on the internet, but being part of the online world has its advantages, and you can help your child make the most of them.
“Social networking” is using the internet to interact, form communities and build connections with people who share common interests.
Teens use social networking websites such as Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram to:
- create a page with an online profile
- post comments on their own and other people’s main profile spaces or timelines
- upload photos and videos, in which they can tag other people, or be tagged by others
- send and receive messages
- chat using instant messaging
- join or follow interest groups
What teens get from social networking sites
The biggest benefit teens get from social networking is a sense of connection and belonging to their friends and peers. It also gives them opportunities to develop and express their identities.
Teens use social networking sites to let friends know what they’re doing and how they’re feeling. They can also broaden their social groups by connecting to their friend’s other friendship groups. Keeping in touch with friends and family across long distances and time zones is another bonus.
Then there’s online chat, a central part of many teens’ social lives. They use this feature to make social arrangements and talk about things that are important to them.
Overall, social networking sites are like an extension of face-to-face interactions, and work a lot like long telephone conversations with friends.
Risks of social networking sites
Social networking can have traps for teens, who are sometimes more likely to do risky things and often want to do what their friends are doing.
Social networking risks might include your child connecting with people who humiliate, bully or stalk him, or even someone who wants to harm him.
Your child might also post comments, photos or videos of herself or others, which could cause problems. For example, images can be sent on to people your child doesn’t know, or they can get negative attention. Sometimes old and embarrassing images left online can even affect future job prospects.
Safe and responsible use of social networking sites
You can’t keep up with everything your child is doing online every day. But you can establish guidelines with your child about safe and responsible use of social networking sites.
It’s a good idea to get to know the sites your child is using. Ask him to show you what sites are popular or how parts of his favourite site or app work. Avoid directly asking to see his social networking page, because he might feel you’re intruding.
Teens like to feel that they’re more knowledgeable and can teach their parents things. All of this can pave the way to talking with your child about her social networking activities.
Getting your own social networking page will also help you get to know and understand the process of social networking.
- Check that the social networking sites your child wants to use are appropriate for her age. For example, to have a Facebook account you need to be 13 or older.
- Negotiate some guidelines with your child about when it’s OK to use social networking sites.
- Negotiate with your child about what’s an appropriate amount of time to spend online.
- Your child will have a profile on each social networking site he uses. Talk with him about what personal information is OK to include in an online profile - for example, it’s not a good idea for him to share his school, phone number or date of birth. It can also be a good idea to have a profile picture with more than one person. This will let his friends clearly identify him, but it makes it more difficult for people he doesn’t know.
- Regularly check the privacy settings on social networking sites, then ask your child to update her page accordingly. On Facebook, the default privacy settings for users under 18 functions differently than adults, but you should still check them regularly.
- Your child should keep his passwords and log-in details private and secret from his friends. He should also make sure he logs out after using public computers, such as at a library.
Inappropriate content and comment
- Talk with your child about considering her reputation and those of her peers when uploading photos and making comments. Ask her to think about whether there would be anyone who might be offended by the post or use it to humiliate or bully her or someone else. As a general guideline, if your child wouldn’t do or say something in front of a live audience, she shouldn’t put it on her page.
- Your child should be aware of the consequences that might occur if he posts provocative or embarrassing photos of himself or others online.
- Encourage your child to be careful with photos that she uploads. Some phones and cameras add data to the photo that identifies where it was taken. Switching off location services in the phone’s settings will stop this.
- Keep in mind that anything your child uploads onto the web can be considered permanent – years from now, someone with the right skills could find information or images your child has put up.
- Try to be open and approachable. Be aware of online safety yourself and discuss it with your child to share what you each know.
- Encourage your child to accept “friend requests” only if she knows the person really is who they say they are.
- If your child wants to meet with someone he knows only online and not in real life, discourage it. Talk to your child about internet risks and meeting people he doesn’t personally know.
- Encourage your child to always report abuse – on most sites, this is as easy as clicking a “Report abuse” button – and to tell a trusted adult about it.
- Encourage your child to keep privacy settings up to date for sites that let her post where she is - for example, when “checking in” at a restaurant or store.
Cyberbullying can happen on social networking sites. It’s when someone repeatedly uses the site’s online chat, status updates or other functions to harass, humiliate, embarrass, torment, threaten, pick on or intimidate another person.
Talk your child through possible bullying scenarios. For example, if someone repeatedly says untrue or nasty things about him on Facebook, you could encourage your child to:
- ignore the behaviour by not responding to the messages
- block the person
- report the abuse
- tell someone he trusts
If something goes wrong
Things can go wrong on social networking sites, such as someone posting an inappropriate photo of your child on Facebook or another site. Here’s what to do:
- Stay calm and support your child. Think through strategies to fix the problem with your child.
- Focus on trying to remove the photo from the site. You can do this by selecting the “Report this photo” option displayed below photos on social networking sites. Note that although the photo might have been deleted from the site, that doesn’t guarantee its removal from the internet, because it could have been uploaded to other websites.
- If the photo is offensive or indecent, contact your local police station. Note that the police might be able to act only if there is a criminal offence involved.
- Together with your child, go through the guidelines above about safe and responsible use of social networking sites.
- Aim for open communication with your child about online behaviour and experiences. If she has any future problems, you want her to feel able to come to you. Ask her if there are any other online issues that she might need your help with. Often children will open up about other issues when they realise their parents are there to protect them.
- If your child shows a sudden shift in behaviour, becomes very obsessive about using the internet (preferring it to being with friends) or seems depressed or down, talk with him and listen for what’s wrong.
Research shows that when teenagers get positive feedback on social networking sites, it boosts their self-esteem - but when they get negative feedback, it lowers their self-esteem.
© Raising Children Network Limited, reproduced with permission.