Our kids are growing up in an age when sharing is ubiquitous and encouraged. But kids aren’t born understanding how to manage social media privacy settings or why it’s important to do so. It’s up to us as parents to guide them, just the same as teaching them how to cross the street or to stay away from strangers.
How to Have the Conversation
Begin the conversation with an attitude of respect. If they sense that you’re talking down to them or admonishing them for being on social media, you’ll lose them before you begin.
First, acknowledge the fun that is to be had on social media. Talk about how nice it is to be able to stay in touch with your own adult friends and relatives without huge time commitments or long-distance visits. This sets a tone of empathy, helping your child recognize that you know what you’re talking about.
Next, compare their experience of social media friendship with colorful anecdotes from your own childhood friendships. Begin with something like, “I remember one time when I snuck out of the house in the middle of the night….” The admission that you weren’t a perfect child will get your teen’s attention.
After each step, stop talking. Teens don’t always know how to interject into a conversation. Remember, they’re probably accustomed to you giving them lectures. You might even have a history of saying, “Now you listen to me. I don’t want to hear one word out of you.” You’ve trained them to keep quiet without even realizing it.
Now that they’re teens and keeping quiet, you want them to talk, right? The way to do it is to stop talking yourself. Make sure any questions are open-ended, requiring more than a yes or no answer.
Why Privacy Matters
Talk about how photos and comments out of context can be misunderstood or used by those with ulterior motives. Explain that sharing an intimate photo or their secret feelings about a fellow classmate online is the same as if they told a perfect stranger on the sidewalk.
Forever Is Relative
Teens have a hard time conceptualizing “forever.” Most of them can’t even imagine ever turning 30 years old. So when they hear that the photos they post will be on the Internet forever, it doesn’t have much influence.
Instead, try for short-term impact. Is their best friend of last week their mortal enemy today because they sat with your child’s ex-boyfriend at lunch? Remind them of things they might have said in anger to you that they now regret. Their personal reputation is mutable at home. But when it’s in writing on the “wall” for everyone to see and comment on, it might as well be written in stone.
As much as we like to think the world has changed, at least one thing remains the same. Your child’s friends have more of an impact on their self-image than you do as a parent. Don’t put off this conversation. Help your child protect themselves with online privacy settings.
Contributor: Kate Supino is a professional freelance writer, mother of a perfect average teenager, and an adamant supporter of privacy rights.