My #1 Rule for Kids Navigating Social Media

Old School: Passing Notes.

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We got a phone for my middle child this year and teaching him to navigate the waters of social media isn’t easy although it seems a little easier with a boy than a girl. In some ways, it’s not that different from when we were kids; it’s just a different medium.

When we were kids, we folded notes like footballs and flicked them across the room praying that they wouldn’t be intercepted and fall into the wrong hands, exposing crushes on boys and deep animosities between friends. Even back then when the stakes were much lower, we never really grasped that if you write it down and put it out there, it could end up in the wrong hands resulting in embarrassment, hurt feelings, and damaged friendships.

Still holds true today but on a much larger and more damaging scale. If your kids are naive, they can get hurt easily. Don’t assume they understand the consequences of what we as parents think are obvious. What seems like common sense to you, might not have occurred yet to them. So much of what we as parents know comes from our years of experience.

Here are a few guidelines I set for them.

1. Add and double check contacts to their phones. I learned this the hard creepy way. My daughter typed in my husband’s cell phone–incorrectly! She texted the wrong number addressing him as “Daddy” and got some very creepy responses that included profanity. When I looked at the number, she was off by one digit. Explain that they should never reply to a number they don’t recognize; have them tell you when it happens.

2. If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
Don’t gossip or talk about other people in a text. Nothing is private in a text. If you talk about someone in a text, it could be snapshot or forwarded to them. Until it happens to them, they won’t even consider that someone would do that. “Have a gripe? Tell me.” I encourage them, “My lips are sealed.”

3. Have important conversations face to face.
A person says as much with their body as their words. The impact of your words might be written all over their face, but on a text you can’t see it.

4. Read between the lines.
Give friends the benefit of the doubt. One sentence can have many meanings and come from many different places. If you’re not sure, pick up the phone and talk it through.

5. My #1 rule: Before you send that text, consider if you’d be ok with your grandpas and uncles seeing it.
“WHAT?!” my kids gasped. Yep, if you’re ok with your uncles and grandparents seeing your texts, photos and posts, then what you’re putting out there is probably A-ok. Because in this world, what you post and text has the potential to be seen by anyone–teachers, bosses, college recruits and yes, grandparents. If they only follow this one rule, it ensures that their social media behavior will be appropriate.

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Author: Heather Zachariah

Former Art Director for Home Magazine, Heather Leahy Zachariah, left her career in publishing after baby number number one. She now works from home as a freelance graphic designer and a chauffeur to her 3 busy kids. "Working on TipsFromTown has been a wonderful outlet for me. It renewed my love of publishing where I can design colorful, enticing pages online and allows me to share the things I love about being a mom." Heather grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, a place that still is near and dear to her. " After living in Brooklyn for 18 years and studying Graphic Design at Pratt Institute, she now lives in the Jersey burbs. "I love living so close to NYC, but in my heart, I'm an Ohio girl."