Despite what you may have heard in the media, social networks like Facebook, Google+ and Twitter aren't bad for kids - like any other technology, essentially a neutral tool, it's all in how you use them.
Nor can we as grandparents and parents simply afford to dismiss them: For today's high-tech children, these online community and sharing solutions have become near ubiquitous.
Thankfully, integrating social media into your daily life doesn't have to be a difficult process, as long as you keep the following hints, tips and advice in mind.
A Quick Definition
What are these forms of communication exactly? Think of them as dedicated online spaces and Internet-based communities where users are encouraged to share personalized content and updates in all forms, including but not limited to multimedia, live video conversations or text messages. These websites and services thrive on interpersonal interaction, and users are encouraged to chat, connect and keep friends updated on the latest news, happenings and events in their life. Several services such as Facebook also provide access to free apps, games and utilities that can be played from within your Web browser.
Note that some social networks require approval from other in order for you to become connected to them. Others let you follow, observe or monitor others' posts and interactions without consent. All are highly public spaces, and information broadcast on them can travel quickly. Kids and adults alike should think twice before posting anything, as it may spread like wildfire, and information live on forever via the Internet.
Common Mistakes Made on Social Networks
Social networks can be a tremendously enjoyable, positive and uplifting way to connect with individuals from all places, backgrounds and walks of life. The key to using them safely is to avoid making several common mistakes, including as follows:
- Failure to Control Privacy Settings - The first thing you or kids should always do after signing up for these services: Set privacy controls so you can determine who sees information is being broadcaster.
- Befriending Strangers - If you don't know someone in real-life, it's best to avoid making the connection online, and potentially inadvertently sharing private information with them - don't feel obligated to accept all friend requests.
- Oversharing of Information - Personal details (age, address, birthday, hometown, when you'll be away on vacation, etc.) should be kept private - be wary of what you post online, as anyone could be watching.
- Inappropriate Postings - It should be assumed that anything you post can and will be seen the world at large. Before sharing controversial, questionable or embarrassing information or multimedia, think hard and ask yourself: Would I feel comfortable if employers, college recruiters or my grandmother read this? If not, don't click that mouse.
- Unlimited Access for Apps and Games - Thousands of free apps and games can be played via social networks. However, many may want to track location info, automatically post on your Timeline, or offer access to paid in-app purchases - be careful to configure settings so as not to compromise your privacy, or present potential problems.
Kids and Social Media
Parents concerned that children are connecting to social networks needn't be afraid, so long as proper rules of behavior, conduct and digital citizenship are observed.
Who kids are interacting with, how they're doing so and when is far more important than the simple fact that they're utilizing Facebook or similar services.
Educate your family about online safety, make an active commitment to learning about new features, and keep abreast of kids' usage habits, and you'll have infinitely less to fear about technology.