I have written quite a few articles telling parents to make sure that their kids avoid specific social media sites, such as Yik Yak, Snapchat After School and Tinder. And for good reason. Each of those sites mentioned here and many others have specific issues that make them risky for anyone that uses them, but especially for children. While online activity can be fun and educational, it also has risks. Those risks need to be addressed if we hope to keep our kids safe.
Among the biggest issues that need to be addressed is how we want and expect our children to act online. No parent wants to acknowledge that their child is committing inappropriate activity. Another consideration is that while some social media sites may have more risks involved with using them than others, all social media sites have risks. After all, the sites themselves do not commit the inappropriate behavior. That has to be done by a person, usually on purpose.
So it doesn’t matter which social media sites our kids use. What matters is that our children are taught how to use technology responsibly. There are many things that people should not do on social media. Here’s a list of a dozen of them. Two of those on the list that I have said many times are #6 (regarding “checking in” to a location) and #11 (involving privacy settings).
So, if the sites that people use don’t matter, what does matter? What matters is that our children are taught the difference between right and wrong. When it refers to online activity, it is often described as Digital Citizenship. So far, only students in New Jersey have mandated classes on teaching kids how to use social media responsibly. Washington State is currently working on a similar bill. Even so, parents need to get involved and stay involved.
I commend New Jersey on their program. However, one of the biggest flaws with New Jersey’s program is that the classes take place at the middle school level. They chose that timeframe probably because it’s the age at which kids should start using social media legally. The COPPA Act creates obligations on social media companies that requires them to prohibit children under the age of 13 from using social media. However, that law is probably the most ignored law in the country, except for maybe speed limit laws.
One of the most common arguments against cyberbullying is that people should not make any comment online that they wouldn’t make to the person’s face. Why is that any better? Instead of cyberbullying, it would still be bullying. After all, is there anyone reading this that considers bullying to be acceptable?
Here’s how we teach our children to use technology properly:
The new Golden Rule is not to treat people as you want them to treat you, but to treat them as they wish to be treated. Simply put, some people have thicker skins than others and we all have a different sense of what is funny. Not all people are offended or scared or hurt by the same thing. One thing that I teach my students is that they should avoid humor when they write their papers. They can never tell how their attempt at humor will be interpreted by the reader. Even someone who might normally find the comment funny could take it the wrong way on any given day.
Social media sites may or may not attempt to help protect their customers. But even so, most of their actions can only happen after the fact. That is, they can take steps to prevent it from happening again, but they can’t know in advance who will act inappropriately online. Facebook and Twitter have been stepping up their game as of late and I applaud them for their efforts. It will never be enough, though.
Then comes the issue of what material is age appropriate? Facebook is pretty strict on preventing nudity on their site, but I’ve seen some slip buy. Even without true nudity, there is plenty of risqué content on Facebook. Twitter and Instagram are filled with nudity, even some hardcore pornography. Snapchat certainly has a reputation for nudity, almost all of it being created by the users, including teenagers. YouTube also has nudity on it – quite a bit of it. You see, it really doesn’t matter which social media sites our kids use. There are issues with all of them, to some degree.
So, no social media site is perfectly safe and children run risk of getting hurt on any of them. Even if they don’t go online, they can be the target of bullying, resulting in others treating them badly offline as well as online.
The best thing that parents can do to help eliminate the problem is to get involved in their children’s online education and activity. Start by teaching them what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. Make sure that they know to use social media from a technical and ethical point of view. After that, stay involved in what is happening with them so that the parents can head off issues before they become major concerns.