Most parents don’t like the thought of their children using social media. The very idea conjures up plenty of fears about cyberbullying and privacy issues, not to mention the terrifying power social media can have on what kids view. However, social media is certainly not going away.

twitter kids on social media facebook childrenI, too, am a concerned parent. I have an 11-year old daughter (whose nickname is Bear). I also work for a social media management company, which means I spend hours on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Inevitably, these two facts have lead to countless conversations about kids using social media.  In recent months, my daughter and I have learned to navigate these waters together and now I’d like to share my own Mama Bear’s Guide to Social Media.

  • Knowledge is Power

It is going to take up your own free time to learn about the various forms of social media available and which ones your feel comfortable allowing your child to participate in at any level. But you must arm yourself with this information. As you gain more insight, you may find that social media is far less scary than you originally thought. Regardless, you will have facts now to support your opinions and you will be well versed in the terminology, as well as the technology that is very relevant for your child today. An excellent place to start is Common Sense Media, a nonprofit site dedicated to helping families navigate media and technology.

Keep up with changes in social media and technology as best you can. A new regulation was passed this summer to help protect kids’ identities online. In some cases, this protection requires parental consent. Be sure your kids are circumventing the system by using a fake email to give themselves “parental consent” on social sites or smartphones. This NBC article gives additional details.

  • Communication is Key

Once you understand social media, it is time to talk with your child about it. Allow them to tell you why they want to be on Instagram or Twitter in the first place. Share your concerns about why you don’t want them on it. Make sure your child understands that they are representing themselves on social media now and they want to be careful about what that looks like.

Discuss what people post and why. The why is such an opportunity for honest conversation. Ask you child why they think it’s important to have  “friends” or “followers” and what kind of messages they think people are sending with particular posts.  Think of this as a gift – this literally opens doors to talks you may not otherwise have with your child on a variety of topics!

  • Set Guidelines

Work with your child on a social media “plan.” Now’s the time to talk about how much time is appropriate to spend on social sites. Set up the profiles together, with private profile settings. Lay out your expectations for whom your child can interact with on there. Some examples: same gender only, same age within 1 year, no strangers EVER, people who don’t bully, etc.  This is also when you need to decide what you expect your child to post and not to post – are bathing suit shots ok? How about selfies? Are you comfortable with them posting schedule related items? And you MUST decide what consequences take place for violating the guidelines.

  • Check In Regularly

Whether you decide to implement a daily, weekly, or monthly check in, you must check in. Kids will always learn to be one step ahead so don’t let yourself get too far behind. If your child is open to it, set up your own account and follow them or friend them yourself. Make sure you always have your child’s passwords and usernames for all accounts. Remember, this is not reading a diary – this is information they are sharing with friends!

  • Follow through on Consequences

Remember back in step 3 when you established a plan? Well, it is worthless without consequences. Be sure that if your child violates some part of the agreement (like grades slipping), he does have a consequence to carry out. This will help prevent an “all or nothing” build up. It will also remind him that you are fair; as long as he maintains his end of the arrangement, you maintain yours. And really isn’t a fair deal a great way to teach responsibility and gain respect in your relationship?

Social Media is blowing up these days, and our children are fully vested in what happens with it. Gone are the times when we could hope it might just be a passing trend. It’s time instead to get active, get involved, and get working with our kids on how to – and how not to – use it.