"The pen is mightier than the sword." Many people are familiar with this phrase that was coined by English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839. The idea behind this phrase is to indicate that communication is a more effective tool than violence. There is no denying the power of the written word. While the original phrase was coined a long time ago, I feel an updated version of it might be, 'the keyboard is mightier than the pen.'
Social media means any form of online publication or presence that allows end users to engage in multi-directional conversations. Social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, blogs and the countless other social media outlets are readily available to anyone with a computer, cell phone or other personal electronic device. The value of using social media is undeniable. It is a great way to catch up with long lost friends, brag about your child(ren)'s accomplishments, show pictures of your latest adventures, and countless other things.
Social media is a powerful communication tool. There really is no other way to reach the magnitude of people in such a short time. Information can be pushed out to thousands of people in a matter of seconds. As with anything that is so prevalent in society, there is great potential to misuse social media.
Students of all ages are very involved with social media. Kids enjoy engaging with tablets, computers, or cell phones at home, in the car, or even while the family is eating dinner at a restaurant. I have even seen kids (and some adults) text each other while they were sitting at the same table. Many students stay connected to their friends and family 24 hours a day using social media. While you take steps to ensure your student behaves in a restaurant, at church, or in other public settings, you may not have reviewed how social media rules with your child.
It's important that all kids follow certain rules when participating in social media. And that requires reviewing those rules with your child from time to time. To make sure your child is behaving online, review the proposed social media rules below. Add your own or personalize the list below as you see fit. You can even turn the tips below into a social media contract that your child has to sign and follow, or possibly lose his or her privileges. It is my belief that parents have an obligation to monitor what their child is doing on social media.
Be Polite: Unfortunately, many people who use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or Instagram can be rude, obnoxious or just plain mean-spirited to others. Be sure your child understands that you won't tolerate rude or ugly comments, and that you will be watching and reading what s/he posts. It's fine for your child to express his or her thoughts and individuality, just be sure they also know that it's not acceptable to single out or harass people who don't agree. This is a lesson that your child will be able to apply to other parts of his life.
Don't Bully: Bullies have taken to Facebook, cell phones, Twitter and other online services to harass other children. It's horrible and it shouldn't be tolerated. Let your child know that bullying others is always wrong. It hurts, and can get your child into a lot of trouble at school and possibly even with the law. Take a minute to think how you would feel if you knew your child was being bullied via social media.
Don't Expose Family Problems: No family is perfect, and while it's important to work through family issues, it's not okay to expose family challenges in a public forum. Family members deserve privacy, so your child should understand that ranting about a sibling or relative on social media is not appropriate.
Be Positive: If you spend any amount of time involved in social media you'll see that people spend a lot of their time online complaining. It can become contagious and can influence how you behave when you're not online. Try to get your child to see social media as a way to focus on the positive instead of complaining about everything that's not so perfect in life. Being positive online may help your child develop a positive attitude offline.
Select Photos Carefully: One of the biggest dangers of social media is how photos can be quickly shared and possibly even used against you. Help your child develop a strategy for selecting photos to put online. And remind him/her that they shouldn't feel the need to share everything that goes on in their private life with contacts online. Recommend your child follow this rule: If s/he wouldn't want Grandma to see the photo or read an update, then they probably shouldn't put it out there for everyone else to read.
Know Your Limits: Social media should be a privilege and something that your child doesn't take for granted. If your child's online involvement is interfering with their life, you might want to limit his/her time online. The same applies should grades fall, or should your child withdraw from family or friends. Many parents require all devices (phones, tablets) go to a central location each night at bedtime for charging. This allows kids to 'turn off' social media and get rest without the pressure to respond to a text or Facebook post.
No giving out personal information, such as your phone number and address, online or to people you don't know: Most kids think they're pretty safe from potential dangers online. This can make them more likely to share their personal information with strangers. They may knowingly hand out their information to someone who "seems harmless" or they may accidentally give out information by posting messages such as, "I wish I didn't live next door to the school." Set clear rules about information you don't want your child giving out. This includes having conversations about the importance of not sending inappropriate pictures.
Never feel bad about "getting in your kid's business" by insisting on checking their social media devices. My guess is that you pay for their cell phone/device and any data plan that goes with it. You have every right to know what they are doing, saying or texting. Set up a regular time each week to review their posts and texts. Finally, remember that teaching kids how to interact via social media is an ongoing process and not just a one-time conversation or listing off a set of rules. It requires parents to engage with their kids on a regular basis and use real-life situations as learning experiences.