Social media and your kids: find a happy medium

I love Facebook! It has connected me with past students, old friends, and family from throughout the country. What fun! We're also using social media to get out the good word about The Lutheran Schools. However, social media as a whole has created a parenting issue.Thanks to my son Zachary, this week’s e-newsletter begins the conversation about social media and the home. Zach’s research from a recent communications class supplies some of the content for our letter. Our recent talks have brought to light more realities of the issues for 21st century parents.This letter isn’t going to get into the “what to dos” and “how to do its.” What it will address is No. 1: Parents, make sure you maintain the role of a parent, and No. 2: Parents, communicate, communicate, communicate. (The preceding message comes from my son, and is applauded by me.) He gets it, he sees the opportunities, and he sees the issues. Way to go, Zach!From Zach's recent paper for his communications class:“ ... I chose to read an article entitled “Ask.fm, the troubling secret playground of tweens and teens.” (Grove, Jennifer Van. "Ask.fm, the Troubling Secret Playground of Tweens and Teens." CNET News. CBS Interactive, 08 June 2013. Web. 09 June 2013.). ... Over the last few years, social networking sites have transformed the lives of nearly all individuals in the United States, and even around the world. Sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and many others have allowed for people to interact, most of the time not anonymously, with people that they know and have come in contact with. Ask.fm is another one of these sites, yet it pulls at a slightly younger crowd. Most members of the site are between the ages of 13 (the lowest age allowed) and 25, but half of those members are below the age of 18. This site allows for higher levels of anonymity, as people’s profiles contain no personal information. Anyone can view your profile, communicate with you, and you can do the same. The level of security is low at best, and that is how it is designed to be. Members simply see questions or statements, photos or videos, and can respond to them in whatever way they wish.”So did you read this and think, “So what?” Well, read on.“ ... Yet children of this age have not yet mastered the idea of anonymity. They constantly post pictures of themselves via Instagram, post their profile URLs on Facebook or other social-networking sites, they speak of personal matters, or use names that can easily be traced back to them, and the level of anonymity is barely present after a few days of reading and searching. ... It is ridiculous to think that children have the maturity to populate almost an entire social networking site by themselves. Already, teen suicides have been linked to bullying on this site. Parents hate the site as they think it promotes barely anything of value. It simply allows for kids to interact with other people and post inappropriate things without parental advisory. ...”Why do I share Zach’s article? Because as a 21-year-old, HE can see the dangers of kids being on social-networking sites without ANY parental oversight. However, from my years of teaching and administration, it’s quite apparent to me that many adults look away from the dangers of kids in social media (or the Internet as a whole).As parents, we have the God-given right to protect our kids. We tell them not to talk to strangers. We tell them not to touch a hot stove. We make them wear a helmet for sports and cycling. Yet, we think it’s important for our teens to have privacy rights—at the expense of all kinds of dangers. Social media is a part of a teen's (and pre-teens) lives. However, it also can be a very dangerous without the right precautions.Here are some issues, thoughts, and actions to consider for you and your children:1. Cyber bullying—Often kept secret from parents. Avoid this issue by supervising your children online and keeping an "open password" policy with kids (meaning that they have to give you all passwords). 2. TMI (Too Much Information)—Make sure you talk to your kids about what not to do online. Broader answer—communicate!3. Predators—Just like walking down the street; say no to strangers!4. Identity theft—Teach your children how to make online purchases, what to look for, and what type of sites to avoid. If you don’t know how, ask friends.5. Get outside and exercise—Set guidelines for your children about how much time they can spend on digital devices, and how much time they need to spend outside. Extracurricular activities and sporting events also help kids make new friends.Enjoy your summer, everyone—and enjoy your talks with the kids!