The Social Media 411

by

Several weeks ago the MHS Varsity Charger football game against neighboring Lancaster High School was postponed due to safety reasons as the result of some disconcerting social media postings:  a huge dose of reality about the importance of the responsible use of social media for the relatively sheltered community of Middlesex County.

The sad truth is that no-one with a cell phone, tablet or computer is immune to the pitfalls of social media. This is even more so for teens where social media is an essential part of their lives, much in the same way that telephones were thirty years ago.

Sure there are good things about social media — staying connected with family & friends, sharing ideas & interacting with others who have similar interests, and stimulating creativity & imagination, but the flipside is that social media can be a hub for things like cyber bullying and questionable activities.  An active presence on social media presents many potential dangers that we want our children to avoid. Remember, children don’t always make the smartest choices when they post something to a site like Instagram or Snapchat, so it is really important for parents to teach their children how to use social media wisely.

Spending too much time on social media can be counterproductive and quite frankly depressing, too. Seeing how many “friends” others have and viewing pictures of them having fun or showing off their possessions, can make all of us feel worse about ourselves or feel we don’t measure up to our peers. If adults can get caught up these feelings of inferiority, imagine the toll they can take on a teenager’s fragile psyche.

Statistics show about 90% of teens have used some form of social media and 75% have a profile on a social networking site.  More than half of all American teens visit social networking sites every day. These numbers are way up from just a few years ago, and there’s almost no chance of them ever coming down again.

Take the time to teach your child that mean behavior is just as unacceptable in the virtual world as it is in the real world.  If a child sends a mean-spirited tweet as a joke, it could be very hurtful to someone else and even taken as a threat.  Make it clear that you expect your kids to treat others with respect and courtesy, and to never post hurtful or embarrassing messages about others.  Ask them to always tell you about any harassing or bullying messages that others may post.

Tell children to think twice before hitting ‘enter’ and remind them that “once it’s out there, you can’t get it back”.  Photos, videos, and comments made online usually can’t be taken back once they’re posted. Even after you think something has been deleted, it can be impossible to completely erase it from the Internet.  Posting an inappropriate photo can damage a child’s reputation in ways that may cause problems years later — such as when a potential employer or college admissions officer does a background check. They shouldn’t share anything on social media that they wouldn’t want their teachers, college admissions officers, future bosses — and yes, even grandmom — to see.

So, how can you drive these messages home?

As a parent, it’s important to be aware of what your children are doing online.  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 are safe and using good judgment.

…And try setting a good example through your own virtual behavior!  This can go a long way toward helping your children use social media wisely.

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