How parents can encourage safe social media habits?
By Dr. Alyson Shaw
Children and teens are creating and sharing more information than ever on digital media using devices such as cellphones, smartphones and computers. They send text messages, use Facebook and Twitter, write blogs, and share photos and videos. All of this helps them to stay in touch with friends and family, and to make new friends.
Social media offers lots of opportunities for your child or teen to be creative and stay connected and informed. But it is important to learn about the various different technologies and how your children use them so you can help keep your kids safe online. The term “social media” refers to the online tools that connect people with common interests on the internet. Unlike traditional media (television, radio, newspapers and so on), social media allow users to interact with each other. Popular social networking websites include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and MySpace.
People use social media in many different ways:
• Online profiles: Most social media sites require users to set up a profile. A profile usually includes a name, email address, date of birth, interests and photo.
• Friends: Depending on the website, users might “follow” or make a “friend request” of people they know, such as classmates or family. They might also use social media sites to find and meet new friends.
• Messaging: Users can send short text messages over the internet and between cell phones using instant messaging.
• Walls and boards: Social media sites allow people to post or send messages in many different ways. On Facebook, for example, information is posted to a “wall.” Some messages are visible to a wider audience, while others can be sent privately.
• Photo and video sharing: Many sites allow users to upload personal photos and videos. Some, such as Flickr for photos and YouTube for videos, are used solely to share images.
• Blogs: A blog is a website kept by an individual who updates it with regular entries of text, photos or videos. It is a lot like a journal, only on the internet. People who read blogs can comment and share published content with their own online networks.
• Joining groups: Many websites allow users to create groups. People can join, “like” or follow these groups to get access to information and have conversations with other members.
• Playing games: Children and teens often visit websites to play games, either alone or with friends. Some, such as Facebook, include free online gambling applications.
To keep your children safe when using social media, it is vital that you understand the technologies and games your children or teens are using and to ask how they communicate with friends online. Tell them that you are interested in learning about how they use the internet.
Other ways to ensure your children are using social media safely include the following:
• Keep computers in common areas, where you can see the screen. Be clear about the rules for using computers and set limits on the amount of time and how they can be used.
• Get online protection for your family. Programs that provide parental controls can block websites, enforce time limits, and monitor the websites your children visit and their online conversations.
• Discuss what it is okay and safe to post online and what should be kept private.
• If your children use GPS-enabled smart phones or digital cameras, they could be posting status updates, photos and videos with geotags. Geotags provide the exact location of where a photo was taken. Make sure these are turned off on your children’s devices.
• Teach your kids the value of “unplugging” from devices and computers for technology-free time. Encourage physical activity and good sleep hygiene.
Dr. Alyson Shaw is a paediatrician in Ottawa. For more information on your child’s growth and development, get answers from Canada’s paediatric experts at caringforkids.cps.ca or soinsdenosenfants.cps.ca.