One of the biggest concerns parents have today is their kids’ social media use. Parents of young actors often have even greater concern, as there can be a lot of pressure for even young performers to maintain a social media presence. What’s appropriate? What’s safe? What’s smart? Where should we be legitimately worried, and where are our kids actually OK?
A new book, Media Moms & Digital Dads: a Fact-Not-Fear Approach to Parenting in the Digital Age, by Yalda T. Uhls, PhD sheds light on many of these concerns with a solid, research-based perspective. Dr. Uhls is not only a brilliant researcher, but also a storyteller with a background in the film industry, and a parent of two teens. She grounds her findings in practical application that all parents of children and teens can find useful.
Each chapter wraps with a list of the main points, so you can either skim through the takeaways at the end of each chapter first, before going back and reading the chapters that especially relate to your family, or use them to cement in your learning.
In this blog post I’m going to cover a few major points on social media use that affect ALL parents and kids, regardless of the level of fame of their young actor, and where they are in their career. In next week’s post, I’ll dive a bit deeper into the specific social media issues that affect young actors in particular.
- Many social media sites, including Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Reddit, Snapchat and Secret, do not allow users under the age of 13. The minimum user age on LinkedIn is 14, on WhatsApp it’s 16, and on Vine it’s 17. YouTube, WeChat and Kik have a minimum age of 18, although kids 13-17 are allowed to sign up with a parent’s permission. As we all know, there are millions of kids under that age who use it anyway. It’s generally as easy as lying about their age when signing up. Many parents have no idea there are even age restrictions on these sites.
- Twitter originally had the same restriction for its services—a very clear policy stated in the sign-up form restricting use to those 13 and over. That policy is now hidden in its privacy page, where kids are unlikely to look, and reads: Our Services are not directed to persons under 13. If you become aware that your child has provided us with personal information without your consent, please contact us at email@example.com. We do not knowingly collect personal information from children under 13. If we become aware that a child under 13 has provided us with personal information, we take steps to remove such information and terminate the child’s account.
- The fact that anything a child posts on social media is effectively out in the world permanently is not a good combination with the fact that their impulse control is not fully formed, and their years haven’t given them a sense of perspective yet. Simple sharing that seems harmless to kids can lead to genuine safety issues: Dr. Uhls cites a study that reveals the following: 71% of adolescents post the name of their school and their city online; 53% post their email address; 20% post their cell phone numbers. This information is then essentially available to the entire world.
- Snapchat, a newly popular form of social media, shares photos, text, and short video clips (1-10 seconds). Because most “snaps” disappear quickly after they are sent, kids can feel a false sense of freedom to send images they might not want made public. But the images can be easily caught with screen-caps, and images that may be pornographic or inappropriate in some other way can be sent through the app. On the other hand, Snapchat is used to share moments between friends or fans, and can feel like a more intimate medium than either Twitter as the moments are live. Used between friends to share harmless fun moments it’s something that can build relationships; used with strangers it can be another thing altogether.
Dr. Uhls suggests that as your kids become old enough to join social networks, that rather than taking the “just say ‘NO!’” approach, which is likely to lead to secret accounts that you cannot quietly monitor, you make a rule that they must “friend” you as they join each network. This means you start by making your own profile on each network, and then friend-request them. For those parents out there who “hate” social media, I’d ask you to consider how much time your child spends online, and then whether you feel better being able to see into that world and understand it better, or to be completely in the dark.
Once you set up your own account, and friend your kid/s so you can see what they are posting, simply keep a light eye on it. Dr. Uhls compares this to helping your child learn how to walk. You stay close as they learn to do it on their own safely, and are there to catch them if they fall. Eventually you trust them to manage on their own, with no hovering necessary. I think this is a great analogy.
Interestingly, studies show that social networking WITH parents is associated with more positive offline behavior, while adolescent social networking WITHOUT parents is associated with more negative outcomes.
Another great piece of advice from Media Moms & Digital Dads: use the mistakes OTHER people make online to create teachable moments about the risks of certain online behavior, that your kids will not feel are lecturing, or directly aimed at them. These examples, sadly, are everywhere. Certain careless posts can cost people their jobs, their friends, their college acceptance, and even their lives.
Social media meets our hard-wired, biological need to be accepted and to feel a sense of belonging. It’s not inherently bad or dangerous, and in fact can develop some very important skills. Used wisely, with parental involvement and some supervision, it can enhance our lives.
Next week: social media issues that specifically affect young actors.
Parent’s Guide to Facebook Safety
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