Worried about all the time your child spends online? Stay tuned in and you can use the ups and downs of social media and the Internet to help your child build valuable life skills.
The old saying was, “Don’t believe everything you read.” Now, you might tell a child, “Do some checking before you believe anything you read, see or hear on the Internet.”
It’s critical that kids learn how to verify and evaluate information and ideas they come across when they’re using their favorite social media platforms.
For parents, helping children navigate social media is a great way to stay involved in their lives as they make the journey to adulthood.
Drawbacks and opportunities
As they grow up, kids are flooded with misinformation from peers and media outlets. That’s nothing new, says psychiatrist Joseph Austerman, DO
“But with unchecked use of social media, kids’ exposure to misleading and blatantly false information increases exponentially,” Dr. Austerman says.
They may also experience cyberbullying or other disturbing reactions to their own ideas and posts, he says.
RELATED: Parents’ Cyberbullying Guide: How to Spot It and Stop It
Here are four ways you can help your children find the benefits of social media.
1. Help them learn to think for themselves
Show your child how to spot inconsistencies in the things he reads and videos he watches online. If his friends are passing around information that doesn’t make sense, help him track down the whole story.
Together, you can research the claims of the article or video to evaluate whether there’s any truth to it. The ability to appraise and screen information is a valuable tool your child will use throughout his life.
2. Teach them coping skills for upsetting aspects of the Internet
Teach your child to come to you when he sees something he isn’t sure about, or something that frightens him.
Make sure your children know they can consult you no matter what they’ve stumbled across. Your child must feel that you won’t judge him or punish him if he discusses troubling ideas or thoughts with you, Dr. Austerman says.
RELATED: Keep Your Kids Safe Online
3. Teach them how to handle ‘mean girls’ and cyberbullies
As your children start to put their own ideas and feelings out there for others to see, you’ll need to prepare your kids for the inevitable negative feedback that they will, at some point, receive in response to things they post and talk about.
Just as you might counsel your child on ways to cope with a bully or a mean kid at school, help your child understand that the online world, although virtual, isn’t as safe and removed from this type of danger as it seems.
If someone bullies your child online, Dr. Austerman suggests taking the following steps:
- Don’t delete. Save every message, post, tweet and email in which the bully directs insults toward the child. Or, take a screen shot or bookmark the page, then delete, if you prefer.
- Never participate by replying to the hurtful comments. Responding to the bully in kind will only fuel the mean behavior.
- Try to accurately identify the bully. This isn’t always easy, but ask your child to save the screen name, email or other identifying handle the bully uses to contact him.
- Report the bully’s behavior in person to a teacher or the bully’s parents. If your child is younger than a middle teen, accompany him for this meeting.
4. Teach them the benefits of taking a break
Social media is pretty much a fact of life these days, but it’s not the only thing in life.
Put limits on the amount of time your child spends on social media every day. Spending time with family or friends in the real world can do a lot toward minimizing the effects of any negative online experiences.
RELATED: Parents: Give Kids’ Screen Time a Time-Out
The big social media takeaways for parents
Social media presents a special opportunity for you and your child to work together. It allows you to have a real and present part in developing his or her personal identity
Have discussions around the dinner table about things they learned and interesting or funny videos they watched. Make sure to remain positive about things they like that you may not find valuable.
These talks will build up your child’s self esteem and strengthen your relationship.
Learning how to cope with the negative aspects of social media gives children and teens valuable skills that work just as effectively in the real world.
Once they know how to handle the bad, it frees them up to focus on the significant positive ways social media can contribute to their lives.