Socialization is a hot topic for parents who are either homeschooling or using a virtual school like Connections Academy. There was a time that opportunities for children to meet other children only happened in a neighborhood setting. But times have changed. In the past few years, technology tools have made it possible for our kids to “hang out” with other kids in online neighborhoods. Online social networking sites grow daily and take many different forms, but they have one thing in common—they use technology to let one person talk to a group of other people about things that interest them.
Just like there may be some kids in your neighborhood you may not want your own children hanging out with, the same can be true for social networking sites. The same amount of parent oversight you give your children when they spend time with others in person is required when children associate with others on an online social networking site. While this can be challenging, it’s not impossible.
To truly protect our kids in this new social medium, it’s important to have a handle on what it is and how it works and then decide how you will let your children use it. So here is some valuable social networking homework for you and your family:
1) Understand what an online social network is.
Online social networks are groups of people with common interests that are brought together using technology. In order to join a social network site you are required to create a username and password. Remember to read the terms Terms of Service agreement for each social network site being used. Make sure your children understand them, too. Check to see if the social networking site has any age restrictions.
2) Ask your children which networks they belong to and how they heard about them.
After you learn which sites they participate on, get your own account. After signing up for a site, a user creates a “profile” page. On the profile page people share things about themselves that they want others to know, which can include a picture or representation of the user. Users of a social networking site will link their profiles to those of their friends – this act is called "friending". It’s a public way of saying “we hang out because we like the same stuff”. If your child is 13 or older, they may have their own Facebook (www.facebook.com) account. Create your own Facebook username and profile too and then ask your child to "friend" you.
3) Decide which social networking tools you will use and which you will allow your children to use.
4) Create family guidelines on how social network sites will be used.
Many families have rules that determine how and when the Internet or TV will be used. Create these same family guidelines with social networking sites. To get started, check out these guidelines from the Federal Trade Commission at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/tech/tec14.shtm
5) Approve pictures and personal information before it’s posted online.
Many children are excited to share pictures and comment on what they are doing with their friends. Support them by taking pictures that are appropriate for posting online. A picture can say a thousand words, so help your children choose their words wisely.
Even after you have done your homework, proceed with caution. There can be danger with using online social networking. It is the same “stranger danger” that you have been teaching your children about since they were small. Remind them that they need to be careful about how much information they give to strangers. Be clear that they should follow their gut and if they don’t feel comfortable with someone they shouldn’t communicate with that person.
Our children are exposed to so much new technology, and it’s not easy staying ahead of them. The best way that we can learn about the new tools our children are using is to use them ourselves. First-hand experience will give you the ability to talk with your child about the principles that are important in your family – both in the home and in the new social networks that they are building.
Please, share your tips and ideas for keeping our kids safe!