For some parents, there is a desire to keep their kids away from social media and other parts of the internet for as long as possible. It’s understandable: for all of the amazing things about the internet, there are plenty of potential risks as well. But with nearly 90% of teens aged 13-17 having used social media and 75% having at least one active social media profile, it is practically a guarantee that your child will wind up on Facebook, TikTok, or some other social networking platform in the near future.

As such, it is a parent’s duty to ensure that they are prepared for the experience, encouraging the kinds of skills needed to help socialize online while also staying safe.

Taking Stock of the Risks

One of the reasons that parents can be apprehensive about letting their kids socialize online is that they feel like it’s a source of danger that they cannot fully control. To be fair, these concerns aren’t unfounded: cyberbullying, internet grooming, identity theft. These are all legitimate issues that any good internet citizen (and their parents) needs to take seriously. But of course, there are risks to in-person interactions too, even when there isn’t a pandemic going on.

Really, what it comes down to is that most of us feel better able to protect our kids in social situations that happen within more traditional settings. After all, we can literally see what’s going on, so that eliminates some of the ambiguity. Yet so much of in-person socialization already happens out of our sight: in school, at extracurricular events, at friends’ homes. Plus, the truth that is can be much easier to monitor your child’s social experiences online than offline. Even excluding the additional reach that you get with Clean Internet software, kids leave a trail of digital breadcrumbs in the form of postings, photos, or instant messages, giving a much clearer record of their behavior.

Making a Choice

Deciding if your child is ready to start socializing online isn’t much different than deciding if they are ready for any other age-appropriate offline activity. If a child is respectful to others, listens to you without a fight, and has a good sense of personal boundaries, then you would be more likely to let them spend the night at a friend’s house or some other fun activity. The same goes with online activities: a child who has trouble following the rules, paying attention, or controlling their emotions might not be ready for social media, or at the very least might require more guidance and limits. Ultimately, you need to trust your instincts about your child and how you think they will handle the responsibility of being a digital citizen.

Teaching Them To Be Good Digital Citizens

As your kids become digital citizens, it is important to help them develop the skills and knowledge needed to effectively use the internet and other digital technology. Even if your kids are pretty tech-savvy, they might not be the most mature internet users just yet. To help with their digital citizenship, encourage them to learn and apply these helpful skills.

  • Be empathetic: Remember that there’s another person on the other side of the screen, so treat them the way you’d want to be treated.
  • Think critically: Not everything that you see or read online is true. Always consider whether a source is trustworthy.
  • Protect your reputation: Nothing ever completely disappears from the internet – even if you immediately delete a post, some could screenshot it. As such, don’t say or do anything online that you’d be embarrassed if someone else saw.
  • Guard your personal information: Never share any personal information online, even with a friend. It opens you up for cybercriminals to steal your identity or track you.
  • Don’t post while angry: Social media lets you respond to someone almost instantly, but this can result in someone with hurt feelings getting angry and saying something they’ll regret. If you’re mad, walk away for a bit.
  • Know when to log off: Even if you have a pretty positive relationship with the internet, it is important to know when to get away from the screen.

Taking Extra Precautions

Even if you think your child is mature enough to use social media for the first time, it can still be a nerve-wracking experience. There are additional options to keep an eye on them, however: parental controls allow you to limit their access to certain types of content, and online filtering software (such as the kind offered by CleanInternet) can help keep track of where they’ve been and who they have been talking to. Even if you can’t be in the same room with them all the time, there are ways to ensure that they are safe, while still allowing them the room to socialize and grow.