The internet and social media sites are here to stay and we have two choices, crib, complain and watch as our children become victims of it or take things in our hands and prepare our children to become safe and secure users. When people started using cars we prepared our children about road and traffic safety, so similarly for any new aspect in our lives we need to prepare our children and make them aware of the good and the bad.
It starts with how our children see us using the Internet and social media sites. When parents use social media they should talk about it in conversations that include comments like- “I got an invite or poke from so and so and I did not accept as I was not sure about the identity and want to be safe.” “ I don’t think I will post this photo as I feel it is a little personal and I don’t want to share it with the whole world” when children hear and see us being safe rather than casual then it translates into their own behavior and choices.
Teenagers especially are vulnerable to social media sites. It is the age and stage of development of self identify, how they see themselves. And teenagers see and judge themselves from what their peer circle thinks about them. So pressure is on how many friends, likes, pokes, posts etc. they have had, this makes them reckless about whom they make friends with and what they post. The teenager brain is at the final stage of developing impulse control and so they still, ‘act first and think later’. Make simple rules for them for their social media use-
1. You will not share your date of birth, address and phone number or email id.
2. You will not post personal photos, the definition being no cleavage, bare chest (for boys of course!) or photos that look sultry rather than fun.
3. You will not post your daily schedule.
4. Think before you bare your emotions on social media, people are just reading, and forwarding, so if you have issues discuss with your family.
5. Just like there are predators on the street and when you were young we taught you not to talk to strangers or take things from them or go anywhere with them, similarly for social media we are telling you not to make friends with someone you do not know, do not give them any photos or information if they ask and do not visit any sites if they ask you. There are predators on the net too.
Another thing is to discuss Internet related crimes during healthy discussions in the family rather than adopt an attitude of ‘I told you so’. So when such crimes of identity theft or cyber kidnapping are reported in the media, turn it into a healthy thinking brain discussion with points like- ‘what do you think went wrong and made things easy for this predator? ‘how would you have avoided falling into a trap like this’? This will help your teenager take charge of decision-making and you would have equipped him/her to take thought-through decisions.
Do not spy on your teenager. Ever. A mother recently came to me for parenting guidance and she broke down and shared that to know what her son is doing on Facebook she created a false profile of hers as a teenage girl and then friended her own son. Now she is worried, as she fears the son will find out it is her and then she does not know how to handle the emotional breakdown that will follow. My advice to her, admit it to your son and say I know what I did was wrong. Because if the son finds out it will lead not only to an emotional breakdown but the most important attachment-relationship based on trust will be destroyed for her son. Our relationships define us, our personality and when the most trusted relationship in the world betrays you, you feel a sense of loss so great that you are left with only two ways to react, retaliate, or go into depression.
It is important that our children grow up as netizens and understand both Facebook and face-to-face, they tweet and also have conversations, they whatsapp and discuss and not just forward videos, they post photos on instagram that are not only fun but relevant too. Yes, it is important to help our teenagers understand that it is called social media for a reason, as it is about society and how individuals together can build a healthy society on social media. It is important that we are able to give them that important message that social media may be free but it has to be enjoyed like everything in life within defined boundaries if we want it to make us happy.