It’s eight o’clock on a school night; do you know where your kids are? In our constantly wired world, you not only need to know whose house your kids are visiting, but also where they’re hanging out on the internet. Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube are great ways for kids to keep in touch and connect with the world around them, but they can also be ideal settings for inappropriate content, bullies, and even sexual predators.
Many parents are friends and followers on their children’s social media sites, but should you go a step further and have direct access to their accounts?
Having the login information for your kids’ social media profiles grants you access to their friends, their conversations, and their pictures. It allows you to see who your children are communicating with and what they’re saying, which can help hold them accountable. Even more importantly, you can control the privacy settings on your kids’ profile and block certain users from contacting them. This enables you to censor questionable subject matter and have meaningful conversations with your children about Internet safety. In the long run, paying more attention to your kids’ friends and interests could help you form a stronger bond with them.
On the other hand, being able to log in to your children’s Internet accounts can undermine any sense of trust that you’ve worked to establish with them. If your kids know that you can sign on to their social media sites, it might lead them to create alternate profiles (and engage in risky online behavior). Additionally, when you have unlimited access to your children’s information, it’s tempting to overstep your boundaries by posting embarrassing content or telling other parents what their kids are doing online. This can strain your parent-child relationship and alienate your children from their friends. Also, when you take total control of your kids’ accounts, it doesn’t help them learn how to responsibly manage social media.
Whether or not you choose to have access to your kids’ profiles, you should still be aware of their Internet activity. If possible, keep the family computer in a central location (not kids’ rooms), and check in on your children frequently when they’re on the Internet. Visit the websites that they’re talking about with their friends, and be on the lookout for increased Internet use or changes in mood, which could indicate that they’re getting into trouble online.
Before you allow your children to set up social media profiles, make sure you sit down to have a conversation about appropriate use, and set up rules for sharing information on the Internet. Remind them that it’s hard to control (and remove) content once it’s posted online and that there can be real world repercussions for their online behavior. Keep the line of communication open so that your children feel comfortable coming to you when they need advice or if they encounter a problem on social media websites.
Special Contributor: Stephanie Marbukh