Back to School Special: Kids & Social Media

This may come as a shock, but kids like their smartphones … and their iPads … and laptops or even desktop computers. If you don’t believe us, find a teenager and ask him; maybe he’ll stop texting long enough to answer you.

One Pew Research poll from a couple of years ago found that kids were using their cellphones an average of 60 times a day to text someone or access social media (Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram … etc.). All in all, nine out of every 10 youths between 13 and 17 use some form of social media. Online interactions help these boys and girls stay connected, keep track of friends they don’t see that often, learn (yes, really!), and reach others who have common interests.

Not every aspect of kids’ online communications is so benign, however. We’ve all heard about “sexting,” bullying … becoming prey for sexual predators. There’s a lot of evil in this world, and unfortunately, the Internet has made it easier for some of the nastiness to reach our children. One small ray of hope, however, is that it appears some kids are beginning to be more thoughtful about the use of social media.

Earlier this month, a brand new Pew Research poll of teenagers found that 88% believe people share too much information about themselves on social media. The negative attitude could be due to awareness of what it’s like to learn online about an event to which they weren’t invited (53%); or reading negative things posted about themselves that weren’t true or couldn’t be helped (42%). Overall, 21% said what they are seeing from others online makes them feel worse about their own lives.

Of course, it may be too much to expect teenagers to apply how they think others should use social media to themselves (adults have a problem with this as well), but any uptick in social awareness has to be seen as a positive.

In the meantime, parents still have the duty to encourage responsible usage of social media and communication technology by their children. Though you may have to endure some eye-rolling, take time to:

  • Remind kids that not everyone online is who they claim to be, so don’t share information with strangers.
  • Advise caution about clicking on links or pop-up boxes when browsing the Internet or opening an email.
  • Be respectful when communicating with others or posting an item to social media-just because another person isn’t in the same room with you, feelings can be hurt just the same.
  • Warn against posting anything online that you wouldn’t mind absolutely anyone in the world seeing- forever and ever (i.e. parents, grandparents, future spouses, employers … etc.)
  • Keep passwords and personal identity information private, be careful who receives it and certainly never post such info on a public forum.

Let them know you’re always available and ready to talk to them about anything they’ve found disturbing.

The Internet is a combination tool; recreational device and potentially dangerous weapon-rather like hunting rifles were to previous generations. And just as our forefathers taught their children to use such implements wisely, it’s up to parents to do the same for developing generations.