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The low down on teaching your kid to have a healthy relationship with social media

Social media is everywhere, and whether you yourself tweet, tumble or like, there’s a good chance your kid either is—or wants to.

But even if you’re reticent to outfit your own child with a plethora of avatars and handles, there’s no denying that social media can be a positive tool for self-expression for kids—and an important one, to boot.

Teacher, social media buff and awesome dad Royan Lee breaks it all down into easy-to-swallow bites.  “Social media at it’s simplest form is just a way for you to post thoughts, ideas, messages to the world, and potentially have anyone in that world respond in kind,” says Lee. “For this process to have a positive effect on your child, they need to develop good habits, much in the same way that healthy eaters do.”

Just like how a kid can’t develop good eating habits by just being tossed a pamphlet, a kid can’t develop good social media habits without the right training. Lee answers all our questions about making that foray into the big, not-so-bad world of social media.

Why is it important for parents get their kids acquainted with social media?

Let me be annoying and answer that question with a question: Do you expect your child will eventually traverse the world of social media whether you like it or not? I assume most parents would either begrudgingly or happily answer yes to that question. That’s the first reason it’s important. You need to get your child acquainted with it because they are going to get acquainted with it.

Why do you think some parents are hesitant to get their kid started in social media?

Most parents that are hesitant to get their kids in to social media are that way because they are simply unfamiliar with the terrain. I am hesitant to get my kids into hockey, for instance, because I never played myself, and occasionally hear horror stories about the lifestyle. This makes me apprehensive. The best way to get over fear of the unknown, especially as it relates to your child(ren), is to explore it either yourself or along with your child.

What tips do you have for exploring social media with your kid?

I love the idea of family Facebook pages as a start, but I love even more my own family’s idea of getting your kid(s) a blog from a young age. Blogging is a great first foray into social media because you aren’t immediately launched into a social melee like most 13 year olds jumping into Facebook are. You have to think, to be a little introspective, and to craft your digital footprint quietly without the constant talk of birthday parties, sleepovers, and One Direction.

(Check out more of Lee’s tips on getting your kid into blogging!)

Facebook or Twitter—which is more kid-friendly?

Instead of thinking about which is better or worse, it’s much more helpful to realize they are simply different. One of my own students made a great analogy to describe the difference: Facebook is like going to the mall with all of your friends; Twitter is like going to the mall by yourself. In other words, both allow you to connect to the great big world out there, but the former tends to keep you immersed in a social circle that you are already connected to face-to-face. The latter lets you explore and have adventures more on your own.

How can parents protect their kid on social media sites while still respecting their privacy?

I recommend you always have a way of seeing posts your child makes, but respect their privacy and don’t make them feel surveilled. Understand the difference, for example, between private direct messages and wall postings. One question I’ve always loved is: Would grandma approve of this post? If not, you probably shouldn’t post it.

Should parents come up with “house rules” for using social media?

Instead of focussing so much on rules, put more emphasis on culture and modelling. Parental admonishments have little value in the realm of technology and social media if they aren’t backed up by modelling. Use the tools yourself. Get in there, have fun with it. See for yourself what an exciting place it can be. Are you a gardener? Follow some famous horticulturalists on Twitter; join a gardening Facebook group! Like fishing? Start a YouTube channel about your exploits on the seas!

Which platforms allow for the most creativity?

All social media platforms allow for creativity, especially if you appreciate writing as a hugely creative act. Still, it’s worth noting that some tools take visual creativity to another level. Pinterest and Tumblr are fantastic media for young people to use to get started on visual portfolio making. There are literally hundreds of similar tools out there at the touch of a keyboard, but I’d recommend these as a good start.

Lee participated in our Social Media Week Panel, “The Social Family Goes Mobile” back in April. Check out the highlights!

Photo by wharmanhoyasmeg, jblmpao via Flickr. 

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