It’s a new school year, and for many parents, this means it’s time to take a closer look at how often--and how safely--their children are using social media.

Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat offer a powerful outlet for children to stay in touch with friends and family, create social action around issues they care about, and meet or interact with people who share similar interests. Having a positive social media presence can be a good thing when it comes time for them to apply to colleges or a job. 

But unrestricted access to social media can have unintended consequences. In fact, many teens report having interactions on social media that make them scared or uncomfortable. Oftentimes social media is the perfect place for teenagers to amplify middle or high school social drama, which can have consequences for your child’s mental health. Here are some tips that can help you jumpstart a conversation with your child to help them stay safe online this school year.

  • Keep an open line of communication: Ask your child what social media platforms they enjoy. Children should know they can come to you with any problems--but make sure they know that this includes social media usage. Tell kids they can count on you for support or advice if they receive an inappropriate message or notice classmates bullying each other on social media. 
  • Be nice (work hard!): Be nice is half of KIPP New Jersey’s motto for a reason. Make sure you explain to children to always treat people with respect and the benefit of the doubt, even online. Kids should remember (before they hit ‘enter!’) that their posts can be seen by anyone, anytime in the future, including a college admissions representative, a relative, future bosses, etc. If you wouldn’t show it to a grandmother or respected adult--don’t post it!
  • Don’t ‘friend’ strangers: Tell kids to decline friend or follow requests from people they don’t know or trust. It’s a simple rule of thumb that teenagers can often forget as they grow their social media followers. 
  • Privacy settings matter. Take the time to go over the privacy settings on your child’s social media accounts so they truly understand how to use them. Explain that passwords exist to prevent identity theft and should never be shared with anyone--even trusted friends, boyfriends or girlfriends. 
  • Encourage unplugged time. Smartphones and social media are designed to be addictive--and sometimes inhibit real-life social relationships. Help kids cultivate authentic relationships by enforcing unplugged time with your kids over family dinners or when they’re with friends. Make sure that when your kids go low-tech, you do, too!

Remember: If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s social media usage, feel free to reach out to school staff members for support. We hope that these tips help your family navigate the rough waters of social media this school year!

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