In today's fast-paced world, it's hard enough to keep track of what's appropriate on social media for yourself. Protecting your kids is even more complicated. While you want to keep them safe, you also don't want to overprotect them and deprive them of the internet's many benefits. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and other social media sites are especially challenging as kids spend more and more time on these sites.
Social media has its own etiquette that includes both formal and unspoken rules. If you break the formal rules, sites such as Facebook will give you a warning or even close down your account. While breaking unspoken rules doesn't cause such obvious consequences, they can be just as harmful in other ways.
Kids and teens who were born in the digital age may seem completely at ease in the social media environment. Yet they are also extremely vulnerable, both to predators and to issues such as peer pressure, bullying, and the social costs of mistakes. A faux pas on social media can damage friendships, self-confidence, and even kids' safety. That's why it's so crucial for parents to have a good understanding of what is and isn't appropriate for kids online.
What is Appropriate?
When it comes to posting photos on Facebook, Instagram, and other social sites, how do you know what is and isn't appropriate? You can't rely on the rules of the social media platforms for this, as they permit many things that aren't necessarily appropriate by community standards.
There's always a potential danger in posting anything that might be seen as sexually provocative. For younger kids in middle school, the standards are more rigid. It must also be noted that unfair as this may be, people tend to judge girls more harshly than boys in this regard. However, it's best to be cautious with both male and female children on such matters. Your own standards and that of your local community should always be considered. Keep in mind, though, that once something is posted online it can potentially be seen by people all over the world.
Context is always a crucial factor when posting something online. For example, a girl posing in a bathing suit by herself has a very different connotation than one taken in a group, such as on a family holiday or posing with a swimming team. There are also the nuances of photos. Someone photographed while engaged in a fun activity or sports event isn't the same as someone staring provocatively into the camera.
Always Consider the Potential Impact
It's extremely easy to offend people nowadays, even when you don't intend to. Most people today realize that it's not appropriate to post content that's offensive or hateful towards others. However, sometimes even apparently innocent content can trigger negative reactions.
For example, photos or videos depicting luxurious scenes can come across as bragging. Photos of a party can come across as exclusionary to kids who weren't invited. A photo taken on a family vacation or at a summer house could cause envy or hostility on the part of classmates or their parents. This doesn't mean you or your kids have to self-censor everything you feel like posting. It's wise, however, to encourage your kids to ask themselves about the likely impact of everything they post.
Preventing Online Conflicts and Bullying
As issues such as cyberbullying and body-shaming get more attention, it's necessary to ensure your own children are neither the targets or instigators of such behaviour. Make sure your kids think carefully before they post anything about others online. Explain to them that it's never appropriate to insult, mock, or demean someone else, either in person or online, even if they're just doing it as a joke.
Encourage your children to follow a social media version of the Golden Rule. Before they post something about someone else, they should ask themselves how they'd feel if someone posted this type of content about them. What may seem like a harmless prank could have a devastating effect on another person. This, in turn, can cause all kinds of ramifications, such as complaints or even lawsuits from other kids' parents.
What if it's your child who's the target of online attacks or bullying? In this case, parents should identify the cause of the problem and make sure that school authorities and the parents of the offenders are aware of the problem. It's also important to help children put such issues into perspective and make them realize that such behaviour doesn't reflect on their worth. If it's a long-term or widespread issue, kids may need counseling to help them deal with it.
Staying Safe From Predators
While online feuds and cyberbullying are bad enough, there are also even bigger dangers lurking on the internet. Predators browse social media sites and seek pictures of children. While there's no way to predict what will provoke a twisted person, it's always best to err on the side of caution when it comes to protecting children online. Photos posted online are easy to circulate and very difficult to remove. Something posted on a public page is visible to anyone. That's why it's a good idea for kids and teenagers to set their social media profiles to private.
Teach Kids to Always Consider the Consequences
Social media sites seem casual, trivial, and mostly harmless. It's easy for people, especially kids and teens, to post something without thinking about the results. As social media becomes ever more influential in society, the consequences can be quite serious.
Younger children should always be supervised online. Parental controls can help to protect them. Older kids and teens can be given more leeway. They too, however, should be aware that everything they post will be seen by countless others and that it's much easier to post something online than to delete or undo it.