Here’s some information that will shock you from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s website. Yes,  you heard that right… the FBI:

“A recent study found that 20 percent of teenagers (22 percent of girls and 18 percent of boys) sent naked or seminude images of themselves or posted them online.2Another survey indicated that nearly one in six teens between the ages of 12 and 17 who own cell phones have received naked or nearly nude pictures via text message from someone they know.3″

:/ OMG! WTH!!! SMH… SRSLY?

(Parent translation of the above is available via TIME Magazine.)

Lately, I’ve been obsessed with technology safety. The more my kids get online, the more I realize I need to get involved in talking with them about using it safely. Most of my focus has been about online safety for younger kids. That said, my girls are closely approaching the tween/teen years and I will have to broach the topic of social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Vine, Snapchat and Twitter.

The Basics for Online Social Media

First off, I’ll come out and say I believe kids under the age of 12 DO NOT NEED to be on social media. Seriously, having worked with teens for over half my career as an educator, I know from first hand experience (and the research backs me up on this people!) that kids just do not have the appropriate grey matter (aka critical thinking skills) to handle being online in this very public environment. Just because it feels private to click and send from the comfort of your own bedroom, what you send goes out to the world and could come back to haunt you. Young children do not have experience in dealing with some of the sick predators out there on the Internet and in the very real world. To this end, Facebook and Instagram have age restrictions.

That said, there is an age when our children need to grow up. Preparing our kids for the digital world is a part of nurturing them in becoming safe and independent young adults.

Teach your child to:

NEVER to share passwords with anyone – There have been some instances where a person takes over another another student’s account to either “prank” them or embarrass them online. (This is called online impersonation or e-personation. Learn more about it here.)
Set proper privacy settings – I would go about doing this with him or her. If you need help with this yourself, go here.
Report or flag other people that violate proper codes of conduct
Block anyone that sends you messages, posts or texts that are inappropriate, aggressive or unwanted
Behave responsibly online – Use language and comments that he or she wouldn’t mind you, teachers, neighbors or future employers seeing. And NEVER send inappropriate pictures of themselves or others. (Click here for a great guidelines on having a talk about sexting with your teen.)

Other recommendations…

If you are new to social media platforms, I encourage you to try them out yourself before you allow your child to get an account. That way you, can experience them for yourself and will have some idea what you are talking about when you set limits or discuss safety concerns. Unlike early elementary aged kids, knowing what you are talking about will win you big points in your conversations with your teen.

BEFORE allowing your teen to have their own smart phone or tablet or setting up their own social media account, I’d also recommend having  your teen sign a technology agreement. (This is a great example that you can use to write your own family technology contract.) In this vein, I’d recommend setting the expectation that you will be monitoring their use of email, text messages and social media. (Read more about this via this Huffingtonpost article.) You can easily monitor their social media use by following your child’s accounts or view them all at once by using free online social media managers like Hootesuite.

Email and texting are pretty basic, but social media can seem really confusing if you are totally new to them. Teens love the opportunity to be the “expert” and this could be a great opportunity for them to share some information on how they work. Getting your teen to talk about their interest in using social media will also give you some really powerful insight into their world and can open up some great conversations on how they plan to use social media and how they might handle different situations like sexting or cyber-bullying.

If you feel you’d like to know more before you jump in, including answers to questions like: “What the heck is it?” and “What do parents need to know?” I’ve found some helpful the links to get you started:

Think Before You Share Online

Every family will have to decide what is right for them and their teens. That said, I believe the most important aspect of having a tech policy is talking with your teens about technology use. To get you started, I found some great videos put out by OnGuardOnline.gov which has a lot of great information and videos for both kids and adults. This one is short and sweet and could be a good way to broach the subject of online sharing with teenagers who may be venturing in to the world of instant messaging and social media platforms.

Heads Up: Stop. Think. Click

This video is also available in Spanish.

Share with Care

This video is also available in Spanish

Or, click the links below to see videos from Common Sense Media on specific topics:

Ally’s Story – Second Thoughts on Sexting

Profiles a high school sophomore who suffers the consequences of sending naked photos, or sexts, to her ex-boyfriend.

Teens often post things without considering the implications. A teenage girl shares her story of regret after posting damaging videos online.

Showcasing interests in a positive way online. A high school senior shares insight on the quality of his posts.

 

Endnotes

1 Juvenile sexting entails youths sending or posting sexually suggestive text messages and images, including nude or seminude photographs, via cellular telephones or over the Internet.
2
The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and Cosmogirl.com, “Sex and Tech: Results from a Survey of Teens and Young Adults”;http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/sextech/PDF/SexTech_Summary.pdf (accessed March 1, 2010).
3
John Sutter, “Survey: 15 Percent of Teens Get Sexual Text Messages”;http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/12/15/pew.sexting.survey/index.html (accessed March 1, 2010).

Related reads: EEK! YUCK! and PHEW! Talking about Technology Safety with our KidsMore on SurvivalCraft… Reporting Inappropriate ContentIs Siri Showing Your Kids Inappropriate Content? Setting iPhone & iPad RestrictionsGeneration “Like”

Experienced teen/tween parents… I’m sure I didn’t cover everything. Help me and other parents out who are just entering this territory. Do you have any other advice to share?

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About alimcollins

Ali Collins is an educator, community organizer and mom. She lives with her husband and twin girls in San Francisco, CA.

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