As children learn to navigate the digital world, so must their parents. In this way, parents can ensure the safety and privacy of their children, particularly on social media. Parents should be aware of all aspects of social media sharing, privacy, cyberbullying, and the unique uses of social networks.
Being able to monitor children’s activity on social media and educate them on best practices and safety measures is crucial for protecting them from the potential dangers of social media. One of the most serious dangers to be aware of is cyberbullying.
What Is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is becoming more and more of a problem for teens and preteens. According to StopBullying.gov, “the 2008–2009 School Crime Supplement (National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics) indicates that 6% of students in grades 6–12 experienced cyberbullying. The 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey finds that 16% of high school students (grades 9-12) were electronically bullied in the past year.”
As these numbers are on the rise, more children are at risk, and it is important for parents to understand what cyberbullying is.
“’Cyberbullying’ is when a child, preteen or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen or teen using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones,” according to StopCyberbullying.org. “It has to have a minor on both sides, or at least have been instigated by a minor against another minor. Once adults become involved, it is plain and simple cyber-harassment or cyberstalking. Adult cyber-harassment or cyberstalking is NEVER called cyberbullying.”
Cyberbullying may seem innocent to some, but its destructive nature can be extremely harmful to children and their reputations. Cyberbullying includes anything from a tweet that puts down a classmate to a compromising photo that can damage someone’s self-esteem or reputation.
These instances often occur over a period of time rather than in a single communication. Because social media is online and linked to people across the world, cyberbullying communications can travel fast, and they often cannot be removed. Even if they are removed, they are still saved on a server somewhere, so they never truly disappear.
Cyberbullying can also include bits of online gossip. It may seem innocent to children to share this gossip, not only in person but over the Internet, but gossip is just as damaging on social media, if not more so, as it can spread quicker and is a part of searchable public domain. This type of negative gossip is also considered a type of cyberbullying.
Often times, a child who is a cyberbully in one instance may become the victim of another occurrence and then cyberbully someone else again. This type of ongoing and flip-flopped harassment appears to be more common in the online world than in real life. The reasons are unclear, but may deal with how much easier it is to fight and bully back over the Internet, in comparison to doing so in person.
How Can Cyberbullying And Online Gossip Hurt Children?
If you think cyberbullying is simply online banter that can’t hurt children, think again. Following instances of cyberbullying, children have committed murder and suicide. Factors that come into play in these terrifying acts are generally the severity of what has been said, the breadth of where that information has spread and the number of incidents over a period of time.
In addition to damaged reputations and the worst possible consequences, cyberbullying may result in criminal charges, such as a misdemeanor cyberharassment charge or a charge of juvenile delinquency, though this does not often happen.
To prevent cyberbullying by or to a child, parents should educate their children on cyberethics and the severity of consequences that can result from cyberbullying. If a child is being cyberbullied, his parents should do what they can to put an end to the harassment immediately, whether that is by confronting the parents of the cyberbully or by going to the proper authorities, either at school or the police.
To keep an eye out for cyberbullying and other questionable social media activity, immerse yourself in your child’s social media world, according to “Parenting,” by creating a profile, friending your child, and being a part of his online life, without “embarrassing” him, of course.
How Social Media Should Be Used
Just as in real life, it is important to maintain a positive reputation online and on social media. While social media can be dangerous, it can also be a great tool for staying in touch with family and friends, sharing thoughts and opinions, staying up to date with favorite celebrities and TV shows, or even educating oneself.
However, it is important to remember to express with tact when using social media. This means showing restraint when voicing strong opinions and sharing status updates.
There are ways kids should share opinions and information, and there are ways they shouldn’t. Using derogatory names or terms, for example, is not a positive way to communicate via social media. It’s not a bad idea to express controversial opinions, but when you put down someone or a group of people for their race, religion, gender, political beliefs, and so on, that is a poor way of using social media and could damage your reputation as a result.
Kids should approach social media thoughtfully. Social media can be a great place to share opinions about current news, TV shows, or celebrity happenings. It can be a way for people to communicate quickly and to a wider audience, such as an individual to her family, a coach to his team, or one friend to the rest of her group of friends.
In addition to opinions and status updates, children can also share photos of their events and travels, links to articles and websites that entertain or inspire them, or an online petition to support a certain cause or charitable organization. These are all positive ways to use social media that will protect children’s reputation online.
In terms of safety, children should be wary of location-based apps and add-ons that can relay their location to potential cyberstalkers, or stalkers in real life. They should not include any personal information on their profiles, including address, phone number, email address, and certainly any financial information, to prevent identify theft and cyberstalking. To protect against hacking, parents should teach their children how to construct safe passwords for all of their social media logins.
Best Practices For Using Twitter
Twitter is one particular social media network that is popular for sharing views, status updates, links, and media. Limited by 140 characters and dominated by @mentions and #hashtags, Twitter stands on its own and provides its users with a unique experience and sharing capabilities.
These bite-sized tweets are already popular for teens and preteens looking for a way to express themselves and communicate with their friends. The retweet function allows tweets to be shared across the world—and even go viral—in a matter of seconds. This is why kids need to be mindful of what they share on Twitter and with whom they are sharing these posts.
Twitter can be used in a number of positive ways. Tweeting allows kids to be part of a global conversation, whether that is a conversation about current events or the TV show they are watching at the time. They can also keep up with updates from their friends and favorite celebrities, and all of the tweets will be directed right into their Twitter feeds for easy access. Retweeting links, photos, and interesting status updates is also popular for teens and preteens today.
One thing to keep in mind is that Twitter should not be a tool to spread gossip, mock, maim, cyberbully, or otherwise put down another person or group of people. This can not only introduce drama into a child’s life, but it can go as far as being disastrous for her reputation, both online and in real life.
There are many guidelines that parents and their children can follow to ensure that they use Twitter as it is intended and in the safest way possible. For optimum protection of teens’ and preteens’ privacy, they should use unique usernames rather than their real names both in the public and private sections of their profiles.
They should also make their accounts private, which means that only their followers can see their tweets (rather than being released to the public). It also means their tweets are not searchable and someone can only become their follower if the user manually accepts them to be. Because by default anyone can follow anyone without approval, having a private profile can prevent strangers from following the child. If a child chooses not to have a private profile, he can still block any user from being able to view his profile or tweets. It’s also not a bad idea to look into a cyberhood watch program like iKeepSafe. They are designed to provide the tools and resources necessary to understand, manage, and protect internet users.
Avoiding social media nightmares is crucial for parents and their children who have a presence online. By being both careful and cognizant of what exactly they post, kids can benefit from social media’s unique avenue of communication while keeping their reputations—both online and off—intact.
(Dislike image via Shutterstock.)