There was a time when catching up with family and friends meant settling into a long conversation on a telephone, or eagerly awaiting a handwritten letter from a distant relative/friend, delivered to a physical mailbox. Our avenues of communication were limited but deeply personal. Family and community gatherings were the threads that wove us together. Today, our means for remaining connected has expanded and seems to occur primarily via the digital realm of social media. Like it or not, social media has become part of the fabric of how we communicate and collaborate as a society. While this has broadened the ways in which we connect, allowing us to experience events and places instantly and vicariously from the comfort of home, it is not without its pitfalls.
As social media makes it easier to share experiences across the world, it also introduces new challenges and complexities. Now, more than ever, parents must model safe and appropriate online behavior, accepting the primary responsibility of guiding their children through this online landscape. It’s not just about enjoying the convenience of social media, but also about teaching the next generation the principles of appropriate participation while instilling practices that prioritize safety, family values and civil discourse.
Children today seem to be born digital natives! Platforms like TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram have become as routine for today’s young children as Saturday morning cartoons once were. Tweens and teens now flock to social media platforms like TikTok, Instagram and SnapChat. These platforms, as well as others, offer an outlet for creativity, connection and even education. But like anything else, the digital world has its dark corners. Every click, post, or share has potential implications for how children perceive themselves as well as others. That’s why it’s so important that parents and other responsible adults focus on guiding young ones to make informed choices about the nature, type and extent of their online participation.
The first step to this is starting and continuing an open conversation with your child(ren), especially teens; valuing their online space and recognizing it as an extension of their personal identity. Rather than laying down strict bans, parents might find better success in fostering understanding. Discuss the “why” behind privacy settings, the consequences of sharing personal information and the impermanence of the “delete” button.
Children learn by watching, and digital etiquette is no exception. Parents can set the tone by being mindful of their own online actions. This might mean refraining from sharing photos without permission, avoiding online arguments and setting designated tech-free times in the household. When children see adults practicing what they preach, the lessons often hit home more profoundly. Here are some tips to consider as you guide yourself and your family toward safer social media participation:
Learn About Digital Footprints: Every online action leaves a trace—a digital footprint. Children need to grasp that their online actions, even if deleted, can have long-term consequences. This includes comments made, photos shared, or even sites visited. An excellent way for parents to drive this point home is to occasionally review privacy settings together with the family, to ensure profiles are secure and that shared information is limited.
Recognize the Red Flags: From cyberbullying to predatory behavior, the online world has its share of risks. Be proactive in discussing these dangers. Equip your children with the knowledge to identify suspicious behavior and ensure they feel comfortable approaching you, a teacher or other trusted adults if something feels off. Regularly review their friends and follower lists and discuss the reasons behind any unfamiliar connections.
Balance Screen Time: While much of the focus is on content, the quantity of online interaction also deserves attention. Over-reliance on screens can impact physical health, sleep patterns, and real-world social skills. Families can introduce routines like “device-free time together” or allocate specific times in the day for non-digital activities. Balance is the key, ensuring children enjoy the digital world’s benefits without sacrificing real-world experiences.
The digital age offers families unparalleled opportunities to connect, learn and grow. However, with these advantages come responsibilities. By maintaining open dialogues, setting clear boundaries, and leading by example, parents can ensure that their children not only navigate the digital world safely but also thrive in it. In doing so, the family strengthens its ties, ensuring that the age-old values of trust, respect, and understanding evolve seamlessly into this era of likes, shares and retweets.