Worried about kids and social networks? While services like Facebook, Google+, Twitter and Pinterest are among the most public of online spaces, it may help to recall that a little education can go a long way towards teaching children how to behave and act more appropriately on these sites.
Granted, thanks to COPPA laws, guidelines are pretty clear that kids under the age of 13 aren't welcome on the majority of social media services. But that doesn't mean you have to wait until young adults reach their teenage years to provide appropriate supervision and guidelines, let alone that you should just hand over the keys (or, in this case, keyboard) and let them run wild upon doing so. Following is just one of many possible social media workshops for kids that teachers, parents and other caring adults can use to educate sprouts about these sites, and surrounding issues.
Start with Basic Training: A good place to start, perhaps even before you connect with tots or tweens in person, is to use a site like Grom Social, which is designed for kids, and has safeguards in place such as filtering and strict rules against forbidden activities. It's a good way to get a feel for the types of actions and activities one can engage in via social media, and in some ways functions like a social network with training wheels. But whether you're using a service such as Grom Social or talking specifically about Facebook or Twitter, you need to educate children up-front about communications basics, including what these types of platforms are good for and why people use them. Begin by spending about 15 minutes showing them kids the ins and outs of your social media account, or working together on a COPPA-compliant site.
Move on to More Formal Discussions: It's also worth noting that kids and adults use social networks differently. Open the discussion by asking tots, tweens and teens why it is that they want to be on social networks, and share with them some of your own motivations for utilizing these services. It's also imperative to have a discussion about the different types of content that can be shared through such platforms, e.g. text, videos, audio and photographic images.
Questions to Ask:
What types of communication do you think social networks are best for?
What kind of information do you hope to get via and share over social networks?
What kind of information is appropriate to share, and what isn't?
At the crux of all social networking is sharing. Talk about what makes social networks effective tools for interaction, how people commonly utilize them and best practices when doing so -- including what to know about how and why these companies offer their services for free. In short, spend another 15 minutes having a conversation about all aspects of social networks, before moving on to the following step.
Review the Pitfalls: You don't want to focus your entire conversation on the dangers of social networks, but at the same time, it's also important to highlight what can go wrong on these platforms as a way to encourage proper behavior. Discussion topics may include, but are not limited to:
Cyberbullying - Discuss what it is, and what to do when you encounter inappropriate behavior online.
Privacy - Kids' personal information is the most important asset that they have. Educate them as to why they must work hard to protect it.
Scams - Learn how to spot fraudulent content on social network services, whether it's Twitter DMs or fishy status updates on Facebook, and potential consequences of falling prey to these schemes.
Information Permanence - As a way to impart the permanence of information, go ahead and Google yourself (chances are your students or kids have already done so) and talk about the results that show up. It's the perfect illustration of how much of what appears online tends to stay there forever, impact public perception and is not something you can always control any longer.
We also suggest checking out videos from the annual Trend Micro What's Your Story contest. These are put together by kids, and highlight issues of online safety and privacy, including the very ones you'll be having in this conversation. Visit the official contest page and look at the winners together, then discuss what you saw.
Setup an Account Together: When you're ready to get kids setup on social networks, take steps to configure an account together. Work together on establishing proper privacy settings, and discuss each one and what they mean. In other words, walk children through the process, providing insight and guidance all the way. This should be the last part of your meeting, and a crucial step to take, once you think they are ready (and you're ready) to setup an account.
Teachers, educators and parents may also wish to remember the following tips:
Go Straight to the Source. All major social networks including Facebook, Twitter and Google+ offer resource guides for families and parents, which include explanations of the services, descriptions of how to use key features, and specific discussion topics for adults and kids. Examples include:
Facebook Family Safety Center - Facebook safety page featuring broad overviews as well as detailed categories for teachers, teens, parents and law enforcement.
Google Family Safety Channel - Videos from Google on helping to keep kids safe online.
Twitter Safety Tips for Parents - Twitter Basics page designed for parents to help answer questions about aspects of teen safety for users of the service.
Be There for Them: At the end of the conversation, kids need to know that they can come to you with ANY questions or concerns. While your job as a teacher or parent is to be an educator and guardian first, it is important that they see you as a partner in online explorations. Failure to do so runs that risk that they'll work to educate themselves without your knowledge and they won't come to you if something is wrong.
Respect Kids' Boundaries: Once children up and running, you need to let them spread their wings. When they start, you may want to like or comment on posts where appropriate, but quickly taper off this behavior and let them establish online relationships on their own terms, without constant reminders that caregivers are able to see everything that they're doing online.
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