5 Tips for Talking With Your Child About Social Media

Tips for Talking About Social Media With Kids

Talking to your kids about social media isn't as easy it might seem.  Below are 5 tips to help you talk to your kids about social media so that they learn to use it properly.

  1. Start early
  2. Don’t make it an inquisition
  3. Show them examples of social media “don’ts”
  4. Use statistics to your advantage
  5. Keep it simple and short

Start early

One mistake parents make is that they often don’t bring up the subject of social media until their kids are already active on sites.  The earlier you start the conversation the better.  Children as young as 5 or 6 now have their own social media accounts and while many are using them with parental guidance, many are not.  In many communities, it’s not uncommon for a majority of 4th graders to have their own Instagram and Snapchat accounts (and many of those accounts were created without parental knowledge).

It’s much harder to enforce the “I must have your password” rule if it’s discussed and in place before kids start to use sites than after they have already created accounts.

Don’t make it an inquisition

Kids (teens in particular) don’t like to be preached to and if you try to interrogate them, many will just shut down.  Instead of lecturing, use naturally-occurring teachable moments to your advantage.  For example, if you’re watching a tv show together and kids in the show are posting online, use it as a conversation starter (Do you think she should have put that online?  Why?  Why not?).  Perhaps you read an article online or in the newspaper about someone who got in trouble at school or at work for something they posted online or you saw a viral video that was funny but probably embarrassing for the person in the video – use those examples to start a conversation with your child.  Kids are much more apt to talk and share their thoughts with you if they don’t feel accused or judged.

Show them examples of social media “don’ts”

A big mistake parents make is to say “don’t post anything inappropriate online”.  While parents might understand what that means – kids don’t.  The phrase is vague and non-descriptive.  The Social U has examples on our website, or you can Google “inappropriate social media posts” and view the results under “images”.  Look at them together and talk about why you believe those posts are inappropriate.

An important note here - remember that everyone has a different definition of “inappropriate” so while your child may say “Sarah’s mom lets her post pictures of herself in a bikini on Instagram”, if you don’t think that’s appropriate, let your child know that she and Sarah are different people and have different parents and therefore have different rules.

Use statistics to your advantage

It’s hard to argue with hard statistics.  You sound a whole lot less judgy if you say “I wish you didn’t have to worry about your social media profiles being looked at by admissions officers or employers but unfortunately according to all the recent studies, you do have to be concerned and make sure they are cleaned up because they are looking”.

45% of college admissions officers look at applicants’ online profiles

40% found content online that left them with a negative impression of an applicant

81% of colleges have no formal policy regarding whether or not admissions officers can check social media.

92% of employers check social media profiles

Keep it simple and short

Talking about social media isn’t a “we’re going to sit down now and discuss everything you need to know about social media” one-time discussion.  It’s a series of short, ongoing conversations that begin when a child is young and continue at least through the college years.  Use teachable moments, add short reminders to make good choices on a regular basis and be present and a good listener when your child needs to talk.  Keep your lecturing to a minimum and instead opt for a conversation.

You can’t (and shouldn’t) keep your kids from social media.  You can (and should) help them learn how to use it appropriately.

Julie Fisher, M.Ed., is the founder of The Social U and consults with schools, organizations and individuals through the MJ Fisher Group.  

Twitter: @Julz Fisher, @the_social_u