We’ve all heard the saying, “It’s what you don’t know that can hurt you.” That’s certainly true of social media, the popular online tools that people use to connect with each other. The vast array of these tools and the prevalence of tweens and teens virtually glued to their smart phones can create problems for the unwary. The potential dangers explain why experts like Christine Mack with Dallas ISD’s Child Abuse and Domestic Violence Prevention team are working with parents to get them up to speed about the potential dangers of social media.
Mack is busy this fall making presentations to parents at the district’s Prep U series sponsored by the Family and Community Engagement department. She says social media’s almost overwhelming popularity with children and teens makes it essential that parents educate themselves about communication tools like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram, some of the moment’s most popular social media services.
The potential threats from young people’s unchecked use of social media are well documented. They include vulnerability to child predators, sexting, identity theft, cyberbullying and compulsive checking of social media, among other problems.
Social media is an important means of communication and a great tool for networking and research, but Mack emphasizes that students can quickly get into trouble without the proper guidance. In her workshops, she encounters parents who are aware of social media, but who don’t understand how to navigate it or the potential negative impact on students if used incorrectly. “Parents can be shocked to learn that social media isn’t just an innocent means of communication,” Mack says. “They need to know it’s really involved and not just students online talking to their friends.”
In her workshop, the parent educator offers these tips for parents, recommended by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children:
- Know what your children are posting. Check comments and images for personal information, like phone numbers and addresses, inappropriate or illegal content.
- Be aware of how your children are accessing social media. Mobile devices like cell phones and tablets—event Xbox game consoles and Leapfrog learning toys let children access social media apps away from adult supervision. Review app settings to help keep private information private.
- Know who they’re talking to. Your child’s online contact lists and followers may include people you don’t know, or even people your child only knows online. This makes it even more important that you know what messages, images and other content they are sharing.
- Learn how to use social media parental control settings. Most social media services have these controls and parents should look at each one their child uses. Ask yourself – what’s on the profile and who can see it?
- Know where to report suspected illegal or inappropriate behavior linked to abuse of social media. If anyone talks to your child about sex, shares or asks them to share sexual images, or is a victim of sexual exploitation, make a report to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at CyberTipline.com or 1-800-THE-LOST.
As students move into the teen years, Mack admits it can be hard for parents to monitor their children’s online behavior. That’s why she advises parents to build open, trusting relationships with them early on so that in later years, children will know – and hopefully respect – their family’s beliefs and values. Schools that are interested in a social media workshop for parents can contact Mack at (888) 572-2873.
For more information, consult these downloadable tip sheets:
- Gaming safely
- Guide to smartphone safety
- Protecting your kids on social media
- Evaluating internet resources
- Links to websites about social media