When trying to keep kids safe from the dangers of online activities, parents should take advantage of every tool/resource at their disposal. Unfortunately, they often don’t take advantage of what may be their best resource – their older children.
Social media is only a teenager. Facebook was launched in February 2004, meaning that it’s not even a teenager; it’s only a tween! Why that’s important is because as parents of kids who are using social media, we cannot relate to what it’s like to use social media at their age. We all know how peer pressure can impact kids. Look at how many kids started smoking cigarettes just to look cool or tried marijuana because they were afraid to look like a “geek” or a “nerd” or any other euphemism used by kids to say that someone is not part of the “in” crowd.
The minimum age to use most social media sites is 13. That’s the result of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998, also known as COPPA. It forbids companies from collecting data on users of its sites if they are below the age of 13.
For me, my first time ever using a computer was back in 1981, when I was in tenth grade. Now, kids are using computers in pre-school. The problem, however, is that while kids may have the technical skills to use computers effectively, they may lack the experience and wisdom on how to behave online or how to handle things like cyberbullying. That includes when it happens to them and how their own actions towards others might be seen as cyberbullying by others. This only comes from experience, both of which, by definition, a tween or teenager does not have in large supply.
Parents should not be afraid to learn from their kids on how social media works. For parents that have more than one child, being able to learn from the older children is a terrific resource. Older children, especially those that are now young adults themselves, have several advantages over their parents when it comes to helping protect their younger siblings:
They are more likely to have the technical skills to navigate the Web and social media, especially the sites that kids use frequently, such as Snapchat, Instagram and Kik.
They may have learned some things the hard way, which their parents may never have learned about. They can show you things that will help you keep your younger children from falling into the same pitfalls that they did themselves.
They know what it’s like dealing with parents who may not be tech-savvy or even against social media in general. This may be something that prevents younger siblings from coming to parents for help.
Siblings can set the example for younger kids to follow.
Younger kids may feel more comfortable speaking with their siblings than their parents.
As mentioned in this article, siblings have more influence than parents when it comes to informal activities.
That’s not to say that parents have no influence on their kids, but when it comes to things that kids do every day, they look to their older siblings for guidance. If they act appropriately, it sets a good example for younger kids. Better yet, if the older siblings are seen acting responsibly, it speaks volumes to everyone else. Positive Slamming is a great example. When an older child comes to the defense of another person, it helps the victim and can indirectly help others down the line if the younger siblings take the lesson to heart and practice Positive Slamming themselves.
Regarding the last point, I always recommend to parents is to speak with (not at) their children about cyber safety. This is especially important after something bad has happened to them. They need to know that their parents are concerned about their safety and will help them, not give them a sermon about what they should be doing.
So, if you’re a parent with more than one child, speak to your older children to help you keep your younger kids safe.