Declining to chat - safe social media

On a recent flight cross country, I was seated in the row behind my children (a specularly superior configuration than across the aisle, by the way) and tried Virgin America's seat-to-seat chat feature by inviting them to "chat with me".  I listened as they asked each other what the invitation actually was and was somewhat proud when they rejected my request.

Pre-teen Boy Using Laptop

What's a little unnerving is that they didn't ask me about it. As they get older, they'll be using social media a lot and they probably won't be rejecting every invitation. Social media is amazing - it's fun and makes connecting with long-distance friends easy. But it's also dangerous - particularly to kids. At the moment, my kids are safe because we don't permit them to use social media - they're too young. But I realize that I only have 2-3 more years before my eldest will need to use social media as part of fitting in with his middle school classmates.


From Holly Pavlika's article in Digiday Daily The Fuel:  

For all its positive force, social media still has a dark element. Parents need to know their “denial” is a predator’s best friend. And not to scare you, but just look at these three statistics:

  • Nine out of 10 parents will never know there was any inappropriate contact made on the Internet. We’re clueless.
  • 20% of children age 10-17 have been solicited sexually online. That’s one out of every five kids. 
  • 76% of parents don’t have rules about what their kids can do on the computer, according to Netlingo.  

Ms. Pavlika references KidSafe's educational plan for social media - Stop. Block. Tell. This sounds reasonable and is a great thing to work on with my young children. 

But teenagers are different. Po Bronson and Ashley Merriman share considerable data in NurtureShock regarding the teenager's biological tendency to assert their independence and take risks. Stop. Block. Tell. may not do the trick when my teenagers are proving to themselves and me that they can take care of themselves.  Except they can't. Sometimes their judgment isn't the best and they post pictures they shouldn't. Sometimes they succumb to peer pressure and to be accepted, cyber-bully another teen. And unless I want to spend my life on social media tracking them, I'll likely never know unless something happens.  As Ms. Pavlika said, we're clueless.

There are two complimentary options we can use to both trust our teens in social media AND to keep them safe (from others and themselves).  The first is exactly what KidSafe is recommending - getting in the habit of talking about what's happening in the social media world starting when the kids are young so that they know they can talk with you about anything. The other is to consider a service like Social Shield (full disclosure: I'm an advisor to and investor in this company) - which monitors your children's social networking activity and sends you alerts if something unusual or questionable has occurred.  The idea behind Social Shield is to give parents the data to have a meaningful conversation without violating the child's privacy.

What other ideas and solutions are you considering and using to give your teenager independence online while keeping them safe and responsible?