Continuing our series on how to talk with your kids about their online life, we have five questions designed to help you start a conversation with your kids about their social media habits. Talking with your kids about what they do online should be as natural as asking about what they did in school and as important as the other really big talk.
Like the other big "talk," when you are asking kids questions, be mindful of their age. The questions you would ask a 17-year-old are very different from questions you put to a 10-year-old. Phrase your questions appropriately and frame your expectations around your kids' current understanding -- and what you'll hope they'll say the next time you talk about it.
Remember, it is important to start these conversations early. Kids are exposed to technology at such a young age; preparing them now will make these conversations considerably easier when they're in middle school.
With all of that in mind, here are another five questions to ask your kids about their online lives.
1. Are you involved in any multiplayer games? Which ones?
Many parents focus their conversations (and concerns of online safety) solely around social websites and applications. But multiplayer games are a great example of kids interacting with strangers on a daily basis. Parents need to ask this question because kids often play these games with groups of people they don't know -- and often with adults who have a completely different sense of what is appropriate in a gaming environment.
2. How do you choose the people you play games with?
Both multiplayer games and simple mobile applications like Draw Something and Words with Friends have the option to set up random games. What is seemingly innocent fun can quickly turn into a quagmire if kids are paired with the wrong people. These games offer chat and message features that let players send comments and ask questions back and forth. It is important to find out how your kids use these features and what they may have already encountered.
3. Who do you text most?
The smart phone screen is the screen that parents least monitor. Studies show that teens are more likely to text than talk on a mobile phone. As you ask your children about their texting habits, try to understand patterns in texting, like who they text most often and if they are texting during school hours or after bedtime. You can also look at your phone bill to see these patterns in black and white, especially who they text most.
When you give your child her first mobile, let her know that for a period of time you are going to review her texts to help her get the hang of what is and is not appropriate to include in a text message.
4. Do you send a lot of picture messages?
This is a big red flag, especially with the advent of Snapchat, a smart phone app that lets users send picture messages that are automatically deleted after a short period of time. The personal, seemingly private nature of smart phone use and these apps can lull kids into a false sense of security and protection. It is important to understand under what circumstances your kids are using picture messages.
5. Have you ever met someone offline that you only first met online?
In a recent survey, the answer to this question was remarkably high -- with kids that present with at-risk behaviors, it's at 30%. Even without at-risk behaviors, the percentage of kids who are participating in this dangerous activity is much too high. Ask your kids very directly if they have considered meeting someone face-to-face after chatting with them online. It could, in all honesty, save their life.
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