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Social Media Etiquette for Parents
Social endeavours with friends have evolved over the years. In the early 1900s the people from all socio economic backgrounds would go to great lengths to entertain their guests at their homes with music and recitals, serving tea in their finest cups and then dining in true style – traditional dishes and divine deserts. In the second half of the 1900s we moved away from spending time at home and went rather to the local diner, the roller rink, the movies or dancing.
The 21st Century marks the revolution of social networks: MXit, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace even YouTube, just to name a few. These days you don’t have to leave your home. You don’t even have to dress up. You can simply use your phone or laptop to access anyone or anything from anywhere at any time – people known and unknown.
The great concern here lies not within the change in socialising methods, but rather the network of people you and your children have free access to. When entertaining guests in the early 1900s, one would invite only those you know or would like to get to know. In that rather protected and manageable environment you would spend time with your guests. Gradually over the years, as we moved out of our homes, we got into contact with more and more people. Today, we have free access to almost anybody.
Now the question beckons: as a parent, how can or may I interact with my child on social networks? What, if any, are the rules? Do my children have certain social networking rights that override my authority?
Tips for parents on social media etiquette:
- Don’t blur boundary lines, stay the parent
According to e-Parenting expert, Sharon Cindrich, many parents are “hanging out” on their child’s Facebook page in order to participate, and to be a friend. Children need their parents to be parents. A parent has the privilege of being in the guiding, nurturing and protecting role. When we cross the friendship boundary, it is very difficult to fulfil the parental role.
- Let them invite you
In general children are naturally inclusive, they want to welcome everyone in their world. However, teenagers need their space to be social without parental influence and participation. Therefore, accept “friend-requests” from them, but don’t invite them. The same goes for their friends. If their friends send a “friend-request”, the parent may accept it. It is in my personal opinion a very good indication of where your child wants you in his or her life. If they invite you, they want you to be involved and that is positive.
If your child is still at a vulnerable age, invite him/her as a friend on Facebook, follow him/her on Twitter and absolutely monitor all online activity.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Facebook and MySpace are supposed to be officially open only to people of 13 years and older.
- Do not comment on everything you see
By inviting you, your child is giving you a glimpse into their social life. Therefore, tread lightly and respect them. Less is more. In the same way that you do not take part in the carpool conversations between your teenagers, you should not comment on every single post or photo on your child’s profile. Trust your instincts and add value rather than embarrassment.
- Reprimand in private
You will most probably come across hair-raising photos, comments and general language on social networks. If the bad language and links are coming from your child, have a private, face to face conversation in which you talk this through. Revisit the rules (refer to previous Blog article, “Top Tips for Online Safety”) and if necessary, follow through on your consequences.
Be cautious of commenting on rude transgressions from your childs’ friends. Your teen knows what you approve of and what you don’t and many will be fiercely defensive of their friends. Unless you feel your child is in real danger, bullying others or crossing a moral or legal line, there is no reason to continually point out their friend’s foul language or many transgressions.
- Watch what you post on your page too
Consider the consequences of your own posts as it relates to your child’s page and the mutual friends you share. Avoid embarrassing stories or pictures about your child and don’t say inappropriate things about your spouse or your love life.
- Check up on your child’s privacy
Familiarise yourself with privacy settings from the social networks used by your child and make sure they’ve got the correct security settings in place. According to Judy Arnall, parenting expert and author of Plugged-in Parenting, as well as Louise Fox, etiquette expert in Toronto, double-check what is out there by Googling your child from time to time. This can be especially helpful if your child refuses to “friend-request” you. Arnall says “You’re seeing what’s available to the public and that’s what’s really important.”
- Let them go if they “un-friend” you
At some point your child may want to “un-friend” you. Do not take it personally. You have seen the conversations, the comments and the general behaviour online. If they’ve acted responsibly and you are comfortable with his behaviour, respect his request.
If however you suspect that it might be the result of trying to hide a relationship or involvement in age-inappropriate conversations or behaviour, take appropriate action. You are still the parent and your first priority is to protect and nurture. Have that conversation with your child and earn his trust.
Lastly, understand what kids are doing online today. Get a glimpse of his pages and most importantly, have a continuing conversation about safety, good choices, responsibility and consequences. Embrace the space he grants you, don’t abuse it.
Plugged in Parent
Facebook Etiquette for Parents
Friending and de-friending: Facebook etiquette for parents
Wikipedia – List of social networking websites