Early Social Media Training is the New Sex Ed

“More than 50% of adolescents log on to a social media site more than once a day.” [Source: American Academy of Pediatrics]

Early Social Media Training is the New Sex EdWhether we like it or not, social media websites are indispensable professional and personal tools – they help us connect with friends and family, promote business endeavors, organize events, and they provide a little Internet escapism with memes and online games.

As social media use continues to rise in adolescents, so does the need for early social media training. We need to teach children how to use social media appropriately; the consequences of not doing so can reverberate for a lifetime. After all, knowing how to use social media is one matter, but recognizing its power is altogether different. Approach early social media training for your children with the same care and concern given to sex education.

Be an Example

As a parent, you may want to raise children who aren’t addicted to social media, but if your first reaction to any life event is “I have to post this on Facebook!” chances are your children will adopt a similar stance.

Strive to avoid overexposure to social media in your children by setting a positive, responsible example. These three tips will get you started:

  • Be aware of how often you frame conversations around social media topics. Consider whether most of your sentences begin with statements like, “One of my Twitter followers …” or “I saw an interesting board in Pinterest …”
  • Establish daily tech free time where you and your children participate in an activity unrelated to technology. Go outside and play, let them help prepare dinner, do something crafty, or read a book together.
  • Ban cell phones, tablets, and other digital devices at the dinner table. This goes for restaurants, too!

Have “The Talk”

While answering the “Where do babies come from?” question can be panic-inducing, the sex talk is a solid model for your family conversation about how to appropriately use social media. Instead of “The birds and the bees,” follow these three B’s:

Breakdown communication barriers. Don’t simply say, “You know you can talk to me about anything, right?” You have to mean it and demonstrate it, especially when trying to get your children to open up about sensitive and embarrassing subjects like sexting, pornography, and inappropriate social media activity.

Dr. Laura Markham, a clinical psychologist from Aha!Parenting.com, says the secret to “Having the Tough Conversations with Kids” is controlling your emotions as a parent and keeping the atmosphere safe. Use Dr. Markham’s “Foolproof Strategies for Getting Kids to Talk” when you’re ready to initiate your social media dialogue.

Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. Despite a growing number of children—some as young as five—with social media accounts, most websites won’t allow children under 13 to become site members. Well-known social media pages like Facebook and MySpace subscribe to this rule because the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) prevents websites from collecting information on children under 13. In addition to obeying social media site terms of use, put your own social media rules in place, including having a record of all your children’s social media accounts and passwords.

Bullying is bad. According to the i-Safe Foundation, an e-safety education organization, 42% of children are victims of cyberbullying. Along with encouraging your children to tell you if they are harassed online, discourage them from becoming a bully. Visit KidsHealth.org to learn more about “Teaching Kids not to Bully.”

Abstinence Doesn’t Work

If you think abolishing social media use in your household is enough to shield your children from it, think again. In the same way that teen pregnancies are highest in states with abstinence-only policies, simply telling your children to stay away from social media is doing them a disservice.

In its clinical report on “The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families,” the American Academy of Pediatrics outlines a number of social media advantages, aside from simply sharing photos and videos with friends and family. According to the AAP, social media use adds value to young people in the following ways:

  • Fosters civic engagement through opportunities for charity work and volunteering
  • Enhances creativity and develops ideas
  • Broadens the communication spectrum to diverse groups
  • Strengthens the educational experience through online projects and group homework assignments
  • Gives access to health information and resources

Looking for a social media training wheels? Check out this list of social networking sites for kids from Common Sense Media.

Have you developed an early social media training strategy for your children? Share your approach in a comment. 

image credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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