Kids’ Safety on Social Media

Should parents hover or tune out?

The world of social media is the Wild West of parenting.

We are the first generation that must deal with the constantly changing Internet scene and its long and sometimes scary tentacles into nearly every aspect of our lives. Unlike TV viewing or playtime, most of us don’t have a specific rule book for governing social media use among our offspring, some who are still in their very tender years. So what’s a parent to do?

Unlike with TV viewing or playtime, we don’t have a specific rule book for governing social media use among our offspring. 

Do we attempt to monitor how our kids are using social media? (Yes, say most parents.) Do we need to know which apps are on their phones and what kinds of interactions those apps might offer? (Yes again.) Do we need to know what our kids are saying to their friends … and others? (Hmm … that depends.) Or do we trust our children to be responsible adults-in-training? (Still thinking about that one…)

The answers, for many parents, are often gray and highly confusing. Here are two very different replies to the question — plus expert input — of whether we should monitor our kids’ activity on Facebook or not:

As far as I’m concerned, it’s not about trusting your children (except when it is). It’s about everyone else. I worry more about the “other” folks out there when it comes to social media.

My new rule as a parent is this: The Internet is forever. Treat it like you would God. Every sin is eternal. 

My two kids are 9 and 7, with no access yet to social media, though our son has been bugging us for a YouTube page. I’ve read about swatters, trolls, online bullying, and gamergate, and I know these things occur on a regular basis. Today’s online environment is fraught with danger for a kid, and it’s part of my job as a parent to be on top of it.

I think helping our children navigate the social media world is a parental responsibility. To not do so would be as irresponsible as tossing them the keys to a Porsche when they turn 16, without having given them any drivers’ ed. My new rule as a parent today is this: The Internet is forever. Treat it like you would God: Every sin is eternal. — Kevin from Alexandria, Virginia

I don’t monitor my two older teens’ Facebook pages at this point (although I did when they were younger), and I wouldn’t dream of it now for reasons of privacy and trust.

We have been down this path many times. They know that once they post something, it’s out there for all to see.

Facebook is where they interact with their friends, acquaintances, and cousins, although they’re using Instagram and Snapchat a lot more these days. My boys, 19 and 17, are well acquainted with my expectations for their behavior on social media and on all the “do’s” and “don’ts” of posting.

They know that once they post something, it’s out there for all to see. They know the “long tail” repercussions of their actions. I’m not on their Facebook page and they’re not on mine — where I’m very active, by the way (my kids think that’s uncool). Yet that doesn’t mean we don’t share many things on an everyday basis. I talk to my kids face-to-face all the time about the good and the bad of social media. But at some point we parents have to let go and let them take it from here, remaining watchful, wary and caring from the sidelines. — Marie from New York City

Two Family Therapists Weigh In:
To me this isn’t a question of trusting your child as much as it is one of continuing to provide protection and oversight as your child grows up.

Even the most responsible, grounded teen may have moments of poor judgment.

Even the most responsible, grounded teen is very likely to have moments of poor judgment. While some of these moments are all part of growing up and learning to make good choices, mistakes made online can have particularly frightening long-term consequences that exceed what might be deserved in natural consequences.

I like the notion of an Internet contract between parent and child, which governs the behavior and expectations of both parties. Parents have to live up to their end of the deal and actually do some monitoring. Often parents of “good” teens will get complacent and think they are finished raising ’em. Really, teens need almost as much supervision as little ones, just in a different way. — Jill Kaufmann, MSW, Bend, Oregon

Supervising your child’s communication and understanding the child’s not unreasonable lack of mature judgment or vulnerability is crucial and an essential part of parenting. Of course there is a wide range of maturity and sophistication among our children; some kids will require more intervention and supervision than others.

Parents need to have frank, clear discussions with their kids about the problems kids face on Facebook along with an insistence on periodic supervision of their activities. It is for their absolute protection and to intervene when necessary. Kids age 8 (or younger) to 11 will roll their eyes and mildly protest while soon dismissing their concern about overprotective parents, while older adolescents will more strenuously object to their perception of parental intrusiveness. Parents need to be firm and tell adolescents they need to live with their concerns for them while understanding their worries about privacy. — Larry Torrisi, LCSW, Tarrytown, New York