Parenting a middle schooler has never been easy, but today’s influence of social media has made it even more challenging than ever. Social media use in our society brings an entirely new set of challenges to parents as well as students, and it is important to know how to navigate these challenges as a parent and to guide your child in appropriate use.
1. Be informed. Currently, the most common social media platforms for middle school students are: Instagram, Youtube, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Vine, WeChat, and Reddit. Learn about the specific platform that your child wants to use.
2. Be open and flexible. Encourage open conversation about social media and teach appropriate use. Let your child know that if he has questions, you are a resource and would be happy to help him navigate social media challenges without judgement.
3. Be careful not to forbid use. Often times when parents discourage all social media use, the child continues to use it or uses a friend’s account without the knowledge of a parent.
4. Gradually give your child more freedom. When teaching your child to drive a car, you don’t start on the interstate. Apply that same logic to social media. Start with one platform. Some experts recommend sharing an account at first.
5. Foster your connection. Use social media as a way to connect with your child by asking questions and expressing interest in what they find entertaining, as well as, what your child and peers are doing.
6. Develop a contract or agreement. Before starting social media, mutually agree on how often their accounts will be reviewed by you. Define the rules and expectations, and listen to your child’s opinion about what the rules should be. Be sure to discuss appropriate vs inappropriate texts/posts and usage. Writing down these agreements may be helpful.
7. Model appropriate use. Studies show that middle school students use social media platforms or text constantly, disclosing use of “several times an hour.” Intentionally try to model setting personal limits, such as: try not to check your own phone during dinner and look at family members in the eye (instead of looking at a phone) when speaking with them. Additionally, encourage your child to turn off notifications and take the phone out of their room at night so it is easier for them to resist the urge to check their social media accounts all the time.
8. Consider your own posts. Be respectful of what you share about your child on social media. If you use social media as well, ask children if it is okay to post a picture of them or share their accomplishments. Post positively about your children to model appropriate use.
9. Respect privacy but be hands on. Find the balance of monitoring your child’s safety while maintaining your child’s trust and respecting their privacy. Be careful not to spy on your child or access their account without their knowledge. Instead, encourage them to show you their account and look at peers’ accounts together.
10. Safety and privacy are key. Teach your child how to use privacy settings and set them together. Turn location settings off so that the platform cannot track your child’s location. Also, teach them to never share their passwords with friends or anyone other than you.
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