Social media is most likely here to stay. I don’t think that Facebook and Twitter are too big to fail. It just seems apparent that there will always be a “next big thing.” Your MySpace page may not get many views today, but that traffic just moved on to other platforms. When you combine the popularity of social networks with the availability of mobile apps and easy access everyone can grab more than their fifteen minutes of fame.
The popularity of social networks means it is more important than ever to include experience and education about them as part of preparing children for the real world. Whether you love or hate social media, it is here to stay. A responsible parent teaches their children how to use social media to their advantage.
Do Your Homework
There are professions that spend the majority of their work week exploring the newest social networks and how to leverage them. The number of options available can make it overwhelming to a busy parent when they consider social media. The good news is that you don’t have to be a master of all the latest platforms. You can limit your research to the platforms your kids know and use.
The trick is learning the sites your children visit and utilize. Communicating with your kids is always a good path to learning about their friends and haunts (virtual and physical). When that fails, you can check out software that tracks Internet activity. Better yet, take a look at the browser history on your child’s favorite device. If they have a phone then a quick look at the apps they have installed. Those apps alone may provide all the information you need.
Join a Cult
Ok, ok, it is not quite as bad as joining a cult, it just feels like it. Become a member of the sites your children frequent. Be a friend to your child on that platform, if possible. Keep an eye on their posts and activity. Do a little browsing of the site on your own. Get a feel for the types of people that frequent the platform. There are a broad range of individuals on any given platform so you can save time if you can find out the groups your kids have joined.
Learn the lingo and how to “lurk.” Lurking is where you keep an eye on other people and their posts, but you rarely contribute to the conversation. This fly-on-the-wall approach is an excellent way to become invisible to your kids over time. They are likely to forget you are on the platform and act natural. I know parents that found out what was planned while the parents were on vacation via social media. Not to scare you, but there are movies of teen parties on video sharing sites turning up all the time.
Social Media and Searches
All of this is great if you want to “stalk” your children online. However, that’s not the best way to handle social media. The good and bad about social media is that your life can be found out online. Jump on a search engine or two and enter your child’s name. Use a couple of different forms and include nicknames. Then take a look at what turns up in the results. If your child shows up on the first page, you have an excellent example of what they need to learn. The key point is, what you put on the Internet stays on the Internet. Not only that, all of that history is searchable.
If you don’t have a direct example for your child, then pick a couple of people on their favorite site that posted something embarrassing. Anytime around elections is the perfect time for this. Pick anyone that said or posted something foolish or divisive. Now ask your child if that person would want their boss, or mommy, or kids to know what they posted. It is beneficial to get your child thinking along those lines as young as possible. It is hard to remove your Internet history, so learning to treat it as a conversation anyone can hear will be a huge gem of wisdom for them.
It is Not All Bad
Social media is not pure evil. There is a lot of good that can be done using it as well. People have built careers on leveraging social media. They did not post every thought that came into their head; they recognized these platforms for what they are. A social media site is a tool for communicating with others. If your goal is getting a message out to large numbers of people quickly, social media can do that. Thus, just like a bullhorn, social media projects your message. The smart thing is to make sure your message is worth getting out there. Also, that message should be one you will be proud of years later.
The Internet and Social Media are big and powerful tools, train your children to use them wisely. If this is one of your weaknesses then take a class at a local college or chamber of commerce. It is well worth the investment to understand the Internet and how to use it.