Internet & Social Media Safety Tips for Teens & Families!
Maybe you’ve already seen the Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma“. If so – you should be asking yourself, as a parent, what you need to DO about it to protect your child from the dangers of social media & the Internet.
Social media platforms, & the Internet in general, can be amazingly powerful communities & tools for social good. However, they may also present significant, & unique dangers to your child’s emotional health & wellbeing. Here I present a 5 step process to guide you in developing & employing an effective social media management strategy to help safeguard your child’s wellbeing.
Internet & Social Media Safety – A 5 Step Process:
- Educate yourself on the Internet & social platforms, and the dangers they may present to both you & your children.
- Educate your children on the Internet & social media platforms and how to use them responsibly.
- Choose the elements of your strategy – customizing it for your particular situation.
- Implement the strategy.
- Monitor. evaluate and adjust your strategy as needed.
1) Educate Yourself About the Internet, Social Media & The Potential Dangers They Pose to You, Your Children & Society
Sometimes I watch and/or read things – not for entertainment – but rather because I think I need to do so. The other day I watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix. I felt that as the father of 4 young children – I need to know more about the effects social media can have on my children and society as a whole.
Yes – my wife and I have already been dealing with how to strike a balance between the positive and negative aspects of the children’s technology use within our lives for a few years now. (You can read about some of our earlier strategies here: Balancing Act: How to Encourage Your Child to Be Technologically Proficient While Limiting Their Screen Time.)
And I think, at some level, we are all aware of the potential negative impact that social media can have on our lives, and the lives of our children. But to hear this from many of the very people involved in building & developing these social media platforms, and their almost universal ban of its use by their own children, I felt, was very powerful.
“The Social Dilemma” is a cross between a documentary and a drama – I guess they call that a docudrama? It was basically a documentary with interspersed scenes dramatizing points and issues covered in the documentary.
“The Social Dilemma” made me realize that, as parents, Melani and I are going to need to continue to adapt & refine our strategies with regards to our children’s use of technology. More specifically, we will need to determine the role that we will allow social media to have in our children’s early lives and develop a strategy to allow us to effectively limit, police and enforce that plan.
Technology continues to progress at an alarming rate, our kids have become increasingly proficient & interested in technology, and some of the negative implications of social media and the Internet usage have become better understood and documented with each passing day. It makes me think that my time, as well as yours, would be well invested in making sure we understand the dangers that social media and the Internet present to our children’s wellbeing, and in developing a strategy to manage those risks.
In the Docudrama they explain that the business model of these platforms and services is an “extraction model” where, although they don’t sell your data and information – they use it to sell you and your attention to the highest bidder as an extractable resource.
The various platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Snapchat, Linkedin, reddit, Instagram, Ticktok, YouTube & Google) all compete for your attention and want to keep you engaged as long as possible – so they have the most of that very valuable resource (your attention) to sell to advertisers!
How do they do this? By collecting massive and truly unprecedented amounts of data about you through your use of these platforms, your Internet searching, your browsing history, the links you click on and the ads you respond to – to build very sophisticated models to predict how you will react to other products and ads. You are constantly tracked and measured in everything you do on the Internet, right down to even how much time you spend looking at any single image or picture.
This is what is referred to as “Surveillance Capitalism“. And these big tech companies are able to command big dollars for their ads and your attention that they sell – because these models, through your continued usage, become very accurate – to the point they provide near certainty of result with regards to which ads and/or products will be successful with any particular person. They, and the AI (Artificial Intelligence) they employ seem, in many ways, to know us even better than we know ourselves……
We may feel like we are just consumers using these platforms – but we are actually the product that is being sold and manipulated on these manipulation engines! As Tristan Harris so poignantly reminds us – if we are not paying for the product – we are the product!
Is it going to be easy to change this anytime soon? Well consider this – as Shoshana Zuboff explains, these practices and business models have enabled these tech companies to garner billions upon billions of dollars in revenue – in a relatively short period of time – making them the wealthiest companies in the history of humanity. So no – it is not going to be easy. When money like that is at stake – it is going to be a battle, a very fierce and epic battle for sure…..
I hardly do justice to this docudrama, and rather than me trying to condense what “The Social Dilemma” covered in substance, I would highly recommend that you watch the Netflix docudrama yourself as a rather efficient primer on the dangers that social media platforms pose to both society and our children.
2) Things to Teach Your Children Regarding the Internet, Social Media Safety & Society
- Websites & social media platforms collect information on you (a LOT of information!) – and may (will) use it to manipulate you, demand more of your time & attention or market stuff to you.
- Websites & social media platforms employ Artificial Intelligence (AI) to more effectively build a model of you and figure out how to manipulate you. This AI is aimed right at you (like a gun) through the screen of your phone, tablet or computer.
- Things you post may be difficult to erase – there is somewhat of a permanence to what you post during your life – so think carefully about the future, and specifically YOUR future, before posting! Your views and opinions may change with time and as you mature.
- First, do no harm! Don’t use the Internet or social media to attack or harm anyone or their reputation.
- Social Media and the Internet can be a huge source of distraction – and you may become addicted to it – so respect/fear it a little like you would water…. Practice self-limiting access to technology. Set boundaries and stick to them!
- The Internet and social media can be awesome when used in a measured, healthy and productive manner. It is a tool – but learn how to use it safely and with extreme caution!
- Search results can be biased – be familiar with , and use more than one search engine.
- Get your news from various sources – ones with a contrary “narrative” than that with which you are accustomed.
- Follow people and sources that you disagree with to expose yourself to different viewpoints and ideas.
- Remember – this country (and the first amendment) was founded on the premise that it is GOOD to have a marketplace of ideas and let the populace distill the good ideas from the bad ones. Be very wary of censorship.
- Both the blessing and the curse of the Internet and social media is how easy it is to share something. So consider that when you share or send something that better judgement would discourage you from posting at all.
- Just because you see it on the Internet or social media does NOT mean that it is true! Fact-Check before sharing!!! Fake news spreads 6 times as fast as real news!
- Think about how a post might affect other people.
- People tend to post things to make their lives seem better than they are. The grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence!
- People sometimes behave differently online than they would in person. Don’t be one of those people.
- Social media “friends” aren’t really substitutes for real-life friends in the real world.
- Recognize & identify when an item or post is calculated to trigger you emotionally – and engage the rational, logical part of your brain before reacting or sharing.
- The pre-frontal cortex area of the brain does not fully develop until the early 20s. That area is crucial in understanding consequences, planning, decision making, moderating social behavior, impulse control and other higher level reasoning skills (executive function). So when in doubt if you should do or post something online – error on the side of caution and restraint!
- When the choice comes down to on-line connections or off-line connections – choose off-line connections first and foremost!
- If a family member or close friend expresses concern that you are spending too much time online – take that to heart. They care about you and don’t want anything bad to happen to you!
If you would like a print friendly version of this list – I’ve attached a copy immediately below.
3) Elements of Strategies & Solutions to Manage Social Media & Internet Use for Children
Internet & Social Media Safety Tips – To Ensure The Cyber Safety of Your Children
- Age Restrictions: Only certain services or platforms will be allowed at certain ages.
- Time Limits: Set definitive time limits for each day! Enforce the limits and stick to them! We find that nothing short of confiscating their devices actually works – and is really crucial to effectively enforcing their access and usage.
- Limit Which Sites & Platforms May Be Used: Some platforms may be viewed as more problematic than others.
- Technology Solutions: Use other technology solutions to help you monitor & manage your child’s usage of the Internet & social media. For example – use Wi-Fi routers that offer parental controls, that facilitate disabling the Internet for your children’s devices, and employ filters to restrict access to certain websites and/or platforms, etc) Gryphon Synology
- Earn Social Media/Internet Time: Have kids earn social media time/credits to be used in exchange for access. We have our children earn Internet time by competing academic workbook pages. 1 page = 15 minutes up to a maximum amount of 2 hours.
- Turn off Notifications: Don’t be a slave to the platform/device! Require this and make it a condition to use of the Internet, gaming and social media platforms. Otherwise the temptation to pick up the device every time it “dings” might be just too great!
- Choose Your Search Engine Wisely: Use a search engine that does NOT store your search history. Use something like Qwant, DuckDuckGo, TOR…
- Squash Recommendations: Don’t accept recommended videos on YouTube, Use Chrome extensions that stop recommendations.
- No Clicking Clickbait: Don’t click on clickbait – it just perpetuates it.
- Identification: Teach your children to identify when an item is calculated to trigger them emotionally – and how they need to engage the rational, logical part of your brain before reacting or sharing.
- Exclusion Zones: No devices in bedroom after a certain designated time. Or not ever in the bedroom.
- The “Buy In”: Get your children to buy into time limits by asking for their input and discussing it with them. You might just be surprised that they suggest something reasonable!
- Model Responsible Usage: You as a parent are a role model for your child on how to manage your Internet and social media usage! So model good behavior!
- Monitor Usage: Know what they are doing online. Make a real effort to be involved and present in the online world. Be one of their “friends” on social media – so they know you will see what they are posting.
- Intervention: If you see troubling behavior make it abundantly clear that you WILL intervene! Intervention based on love and the child’s best interests.
- Excision: When all other more moderate solutions fail – delete the apps and get them off social media altogether!
4) Implement & Enforce Your Social Media & Internet Usage Strategy
Great, you’ve made it this far – but it doesn’t mean anything unless you take steps to actually manage their Internet & social media usage!
We find it is WAY too easy for the kids to gravitate to their devices if they have unfettered access to them throughout the day. I know it is not easy, especially if you have multiple children, with each child potentially having multiple devices. We have found that actually confiscating (and hiding) the devices to be the most effective manner to implement a schedule or time limit with regards to their usage.
I would also recommend that you sit down with your kids, discuss your concerns and some of the information from section 2 (Things to Teach Your Children Regarding the Internet & Social Media) and solicit their suggestions on how to come up with a workable solution for all parties involved. If the kids participate and are involved in the process, it is likely that they will be more inclined to actually adhere to it!
Write the plan down and post it conspicuously in a common room in your house so all can refer back to it as needed. I would also consider posting the bullet points of what you taught them regarding the Internet & social media. So right in front of them will be the rules, and WHY the rules are in place. Reinforcement, we find, is really a key to the little ones retaining, learning and understanding stuff while they still possess an underdeveloped pre-frontal cortex (which they do up until about age 24)!
Error on the side of SIMPLE & CLEAR for your plan in the beginning. If it is too complicated, and the kids (or even you!) don’t understand the plan – it will most likely fail!
Finally, implementing your Internet & social media strategy demands consistency & discipline. If you are lax in it’s application and enforcement you are undermining yourself and your plan! Say what you are going to do – AND DO WHAT YOU SAY!
5) Monitor, Evaluate & Adjust Your Social Media & Internet Usage Strategy for Your Children
After a period of time (maybe a week, or even a month) revisit your plan, have a discussion with the kids about what is working and what is not, and then tweak the plan to address any valid concerns or unforeseen consequences.
Times change, social media and the Internet continue to change, and life changes. Therefore your plan and strategy for managing the social media and Internet usage of your children will need to change and adapt as well. It is best to view any plan or strategy as being DYNAMIC and ever evolving….
Ledger of Harms (Center for Humane Technology)
I found this on the Center for Humane Technology’s website. It helps delineate some of the less visible human costs of consistent use of some of the most popular social media platforms and powerful Internet tools! Ledger of Harms
Conclusion & Some Perspective…. Stay Safe Online!
Social media & Internet safety for your children should be a priority for all parents!
Building your child’s perception of their own self worth and their self esteem is one of your primary jobs as a parent. The Internet and social media can very easily warp and erode that when children and young adults are at a very impressionable age and just figuring out who they really are and their place in this world. If social media or Internet usage is undermining their self esteem and emotional health – it needs to be identified quickly and dealt with decisively.
For awhile, we were letting our youngest have a little too much access to YouTube through one of the Alexa Show devices. Yes – we had to physically unplug the device to prevent her from over using it – but within a matter of days she adjusted. Soon she was contentedly playing with more of the toys we wanted her to play with (Legos, building blocks, puzzles, etc) and that she SHOULD be playing with as a kid – as opposed to just WATCHING others on YouTube. It was great to see her playing so well by herself, using her imagination, creating, building, exploring and just being a kid!
Over the weeks leading up to us actually unplugging the device – I had expressed some concern to my wife regarding the amount of time she was spending in front of the device. Nothing changed – despite the concerns we both shared. However, it was watching “The Social Dilemma” on NetFlix that ultimately spurred me into immediate action.
Consider, again, the fact that many of the people that were involved in building and creating these social media platforms universally prohibit their very own children from using them at all. That really says a lot about the potential dangers they pose to your child’s wellbeing!
The intention of the documentary was clearly to provoke viewers into action, and I feel that it did that very well, at least in our case. We are certainly taking the online safety & security of our children much more seriously as a result of watching this show! I hope you will take the time to watch it – and that it will prompt you, as it did me, to re-evaluate both your relationship, and that of your children, with social media and the Internet.
- Common Sense Media: Family Media Agreement
- Tips for Helping Teens Manage Technology
- The Social Dilemma. This is a website devoted to the cause of The Social Dilemma docudrama and its mission of making technology more humane. If you are interested in learning more please go to their website.
- The Social Dilemma on IMDB
- 10 Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now (Jarod Lanier)
- Docudrama interviewees I felt were particularly impactful: Tristan Harris, Jeff Seibert, Bailey Richardson & Jaron Lanier
- Center for Humane Technology
- Ledger of Harms
- The Great Hack: Another Netflix documentary. This one is about the Cambridge Analytica scandal involving the secret & illicit harvesting and use of Facebook data with regards to the Brexit campaign and the Trump campaign in 2016. The Great Hack Trailer
Images courtesy of Pixabay.
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