Most children use some form of social media and have a profile on a social networking site. Many visit these sites every day.
There are plenty of good things about social media — but also many risks and things kids and teens should avoid. They don't always make good choices when they post something to a site, and this can lead to problems.
So it's important to talk with your kids about how to use social media wisely.
Social media can help children:
The flip side is that social media can be a hub for things like cyber-bullying and questionable activities. Without meaning to, children can share more online than they should.
This can make them easy targets for online predators and others who might mean them harm.
In fact, many teens say they have:
Besides problems like cyber-bullying and online predators, children also can face the possibility of a physical encounter with the wrong person. Many newer apps automatically reveal the poster's location when they're used. This can tell anyone exactly where to find the person using the app.
And photos, videos, and comments made online usually can't be taken back once they're posted. Even when a teen thinks something has been deleted, it can be impossible to completely erase it from the Internet.
Posting an inappropriate photo can damage a reputation and cause problems years later — such as when a potential employer or college admissions officer does a background check. And sending a mean-spirited text, even as a joke, can be very hurtful to someone else and even taken as a threat.
Spending too much time on social media can be a downer too. Seeing how many "friends" others have and the pictures of them having fun can make children feel bad about themselves or like they don't measure up to their peers.
It's important to be aware of what your children do online. But snooping can alienate them and damage the trust you've built together. The key is to stay involved in a way that makes your children understand that you respect their privacy but want to make sure they're safe.
Tell your children that it's important to:
Consider making a "social media agreement" with your children — a real contract they can sign. In it, they agree to protect their own privacy, consider their reputation, and not give out personal information. They also promise not to use technology to hurt anyone else through bullying or gossip.
In turn, parents agree to respect teens' privacy while making an effort to be part of the social media world. This means you can "friend" and observe them, but don't post embarrassing comments or rants about messy rooms.
Parents also can help keep children grounded in the real world by putting limits on media use. Keep computers in public areas in the house, avoid laptops and smartphones in bedrooms, and set some rules on the use of technology (such as no devices at the dinner table).
And don't forget: Setting a good example through your own virtual behaviour can go a long way toward helping your children use social media safely.