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Handling Social Media with Your Kids



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Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past few years, you’re aware of the rise in popularity of social media with teens. From texting on cell phones to websites such as Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube, today’s kids are engaging in social media at an ever-increasing rate.
Social media is not a fad, and has become part of the fabric of American youth culture. It’s estimated that during this year (2009), 15.5 million teen Internet users (75 percent) will use social networking websites. Facebook alone is said to have 300 million active users worldwide, and is the third most-visited website on the Internet, behind Google and Yahoo! In the course of a month, some 24 percent of all Internet users visit Facebook. And, two other social media sites, YouTube and MySpace, hold the fourth and fifth spots as most visited websites in the U.S. Still, parents have to make choices about whether they will allow their adolescent kids to use these websites. And, if they allow their kids access to these sites, parents must provide both boundaries and oversight to their usage.
Talking to your kids about social media should be a top priority. Here are some ways to set appropriate boundaries and provide intentional oversight:
Follow website rules and safety tips, and set privacy settings.

If you allow your kids to have access to social media, be sure to follow the rules and tips provided on specific websites. Additionally, when setting up a social networking account, be sure to access the security settings area, click on “privacy settings” and then set the desired settings to make sure you’re child’s profile is private to ensure only designated “friends” can access their profile.
Set-up a closed circle of “friends.”

On social networking websites, only allow your kids to designate as “friends” people whom they know and of whom you approve. This will only allow your kids to communicate with a specific, closed group of people.
Don’t allow kids to add new “friends” without your permission.

It’s likely that over time, your children will want to add additional “friends” to their social networking profile. Also, understand that it’s likely that your children will receive requests from people they don’t know to be added to their “friend” list. Set an expectation that no person can be added to the “friend” list without your permission.
Don’t allow your kids to provide any personal information.

Don’t allow kids to post any information that would make it easy for a stranger to find them like addresses, phone numbers, where they regularly hang out, where they work, and what time they get off work.
Don’t allow kids to set up multiple profiles using multiple email accounts.

From the beginning, set the expectation that your child is allowed only one account on a social networking website. Make sure your child understands that a violation of this expectation is cause for disciplinary action.
Make it clear that you intend to be a “friend” and will regularly check your child’s profile.

Your child will likely balk at this rule, as he or she will want their profile to be private, free from a parent’s view. Don’t give in. This will serve a couple of good purposes, both to ensure your children think through what to post on their profile before they do so, and it also gives you the opportunity to view the content that others post on the profile, as well. Be sure to follow through. “Friend” you child and frequently visit their profile.
Have your kids agree to tell you if they receive any inappropriate or threatening messages.

The possibility exists that your child will receive uninvited, inappropriate, or threatening messages from others. Set the expectation that you need to know if this occurs, so that you can deal with these messages.
Set clear expectations about cell phone use.

These expectations should include all issues associated with today’s cell phones, from when it’s OK to talk on their cell phone, to texting, to taking and distributing photos and videos. Tell your kids that if they should receive inappropriate photographs from others, you expect them to notify you.
Set clear expectations about video websites.

Your kids need to know what you expect when it comes to visiting social media sites, such as YouTube. Determine what types of video they can view and which ones they cannot. Understand that you probably won’t be able to tell what videos they’ve watched, particularly if they access video through their phone or when they are away from home with their friends. So, if you set clear expectations, at least your kids will have to make a choice knowing where you stand. Make sure they know that should they come across video of a pornographic nature, that you’re willing to talk it over with them.
Follow through with consistent discipline.

Kids need consistent discipline from their parents in order to both survive and thrive. That means clearly defined limits, expectations, and consequences clearly articulated to the children by the parents in ways that all involved parties understand. If your kids violate your boundaries, it’s key to follow through consistently with the agreed upon consequences.
Social media is here to stay. How your child consumes it can impact her or his life for better or for worse. Be proactive by providing loving guidance and discipline. And, be sure to throw in good measures of patience and grace. In doing these things, you’ll be helping your child grow into a mature and responsible adult.

For the full article and more from Dr. Jim Burns, go to

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