Social media platforms have grown way beyond a means of getting back in touch with old friends and sharing funny cat videos. For teenagers especially, social media opens up a wider community, is an essential part of their social life and is how they stay in touch with friends (gone are the days when your kids tied up the family phone for hours on end!). However, it comes with a whole new set of downsides which can invade the life of a child outside of school hours, like cyber-bullying, the risk of online grooming or the pressure to share intimate photographs, which earlier generations didn’t have to worry about.
Recently we were invited by Instagram to collaborate with them on their new Parents’ Guide 'Know how to talk with your teen about Instagram', and earlier this week we went along to their event ‘At Home with Instagram’. Panels included some truly inspiring young people using Instagram to share positive messages, along with Mumsnet CEO Justine Roberts, Tessy Ojo from The Diana Award and parent blogger Vickie Neave, discussing what parents can do to ensure their children stay safe and have a great social media experience.
It’s fair to say we left the event with plenty of food for thought to share with you (sadly we can’t share the delicious brownies provided by youngest ever Bake Off contestant Martha Collison - thank you, they were amazing!!)
1. Values. Tessy Ojo pointed out that our children don’t live seperate online and offline lives, so ask your kids: how do you want to live your life? What are your values and how do they translate into what you say and do?
2. Be there. Keeping your kids safe online is another part of parenting so all the same rules apply. There needs to be dialogue and your kids need to know you'll make yourself available to listen.
3. Role modelling. At Parentkind we often talk about being a good role model for learning - the same applies to social media: how much time do you spend on your phone? What do you post on social media? Who do you follow?
4. Share the experience. Follow a few accounts together and have fun talking with your teen about the posts and comments. And make sure they know what to do if they’re worried or come across something they're not comfortable with.
5. Set the ground rules. Talk about what features your kids want to use and decide on a strategy for getting started once they turn 13 (the minimum age for many social media platforms, including Instagram), for example, starting with just a private account, who do they want to follow and why? Discuss they type of thing they want to share and tone of voice – use the ‘what would Granny say?’ approach!
6. Encourage critical thinking. How might they spot fake accounts? What do they know about social footprint? Do they understand the effect of things like 'pile on'? e.g. when one person leaves a comment telling you you're wrong about something, that might be ok, but when 50 people tell you the same thing it can feel intimidating and upsetting.
7. Review. Safety isn't a one-off conversation. Check settings regularly and look out for updates. Encourage regular clear-outs of your followers and who you're following (don't be afraid to unfollow).
8. Tools and actions. Get to know the tools available to make sure your teen’s experience is positive, intentional and safe. Check out the Instagram guide for parents and other online safety guides (internet matters have great information for parents).
It’s important that as parents we feel equipped to guide our children online (and offline), but as one of the young panellists pointed out, they know the landscape and understand the dangers; so keep the communication lines open and trust that they’ll be kind to others and come to you for support if they need it.