Middle School is full of drama. There’s just no way around it. It starts to creep in around third or fourth grade and is in full force by 6th grade. Most of the drama is focused on a child’s need for two competing forces, autonomy and acceptance. By the time they start middle school, the drama becomes a part of everyday life as kids realize they are more autonomous from their parents and they seek acceptance from their peers. This was true long before social media came onto the scene, but it does amplify the drama of the middle school years. Now social media is a part of our children’s social, emotional and intellectual development. Some ways that your child and his/her friends use social media may shock you and, the more you know, the better prepared you will be to deal with it.
Our common strategy for most parenting issues is to reflect upon how we were raised. Unfortunately, this does not help us since social media was not around when we were kids. Grown-ups may use social media but certainly not the way our kids are using it. Keep in mind, there are real benefits to kids using social media, including access to information, increased communication, and help in developing a sense of self. Just as we prepare our kids for life in the real world, we need to prepare them for life in the digital world, so we need to start teaching them about privacy and judgment when posting online. Two general rules to follow are:
- Encourage your child to only use age appropriate sites and to be truthful when registering on a social networking site. Review the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (“COPPA”) and the terms of service sites for the social media accounts they set up.
- Review and set privacy settings on all accounts – Know what you are sharing. (A good tip is to opt-out of geolocation and location check-ins unless you are sure of the privacy settings.)
As we all know, there can be serious downsides to online sharing too: cyberbullying, de-friending/following, exposure to inappropriate content, and sexting.
Be prepared to discuss:
- Friending/following and de-friending/following – Who should they follow or friend? When should they unfollow or unfriend someone? How will they feel when someone unfollows or unfriends them? Don’t assume everyone you meet online is who they appear to be.
- Photo sharing – Not only is their privacy a concern, but they need to understand and respect the privacy of others
- Revealing too much personal information
- What to do if they see something inappropriate for children
- What to do if they are contacted or “friended” by someone they do not know
- What to do if someone is being unkind, hurtful or offensive to them or others
- What are the consequences if they mess up, make a mistake, or feel that something has gone too far
The last discussion topic is sometimes the hardest conversation to have. Be real about what your expectations are for your child and discuss them before an issue erupts. Draw up a contract or plan. The American Academy of Pediatrics has a useful family media use plan tool, and give your kids some input so they are a part of the discussion. It is important to give them a pathway so they feel safe to involve the adults around them. It is also important to support them as they deal with both the social and emotional impact of social media.
The drama of middle school will not end anytime soon. The best ways parents can navigate through this tough time is by being knowledgeable that what current trends are in social media and keeping the lines of communication open with their children.
Here are some great resources get you started:
Common Sense Media – Parent Concerns
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP): Media and Children Communication Toolkit
The Family Online Safety Institute