10 guidelines for having fun with technology and minimizing the risks.

One of the questions most commonly asked by parents is, “What is the 'right' age for my child to begin texting and using social media?”

As with most aspects of child-rearing, there isn’t a simple one-age-fits-all guideline. It’s best for parents to know about how to prepare kids to use technology—at whatever age they deem necessary and appropriate—in ways that respect the dignity of others and reflect the positive values of most schools, organizations, and families.

Children and adolescents expose themselves to significant risks when they use social media and other forms of screen time. Adults may do kids a frightening dis-service by banning the use of technology outright. At best, this head-in-the-sand approach ill-prepares kids to deal with the world in which they live and at worst, it creates a fervor among these young people to get their hands on social media in sneaky, risky ways.

Kids should be introduced to the responsible use of technology in gradual, maturity-appropriate intervals, with social media use being among the last things that young people are allowed to access. There are dozens of compelling reasons to delay social media use (that are beyond the scope of this article) but for the time when parents do decide to let their kids enter this world, here are 10 guidelines that speak to young people directly and respectfully about how to enjoy technology, stay safe, and behave well online:

1. Choose Your Words Carefully

If you wouldn’t say something to a person’s face, don’t send it via text or the internet. Technology makes it too easy to say things that are impulsive or unkind. Also, the person reading your message can’t see your facial expressions or hear your tone of voice.

Sarcasm and humor often get lost in translation online, so avoid their use. Type carefully as well; avoid using ALL CAPS since they make it look like you are angry or YELLING.

2. The Internet is Not a Weapon

Don’t gossip about other people while you are online. Your words can be misinterpreted, manipulated, and forwarded without your permission. Plus, it’s not fair to talk about people when they can’t defend themselves. Likewise, social media sites should never be used to strategically exclude peers who are “on the outs” of a peer group or to “de-friend” a person after a fight.

3. What You Post is Permanent

Once you share something online, you lose control of where it goes, who can forward it, who will see it, and how it can potentially be used. As much as you might believe right now that you can trust your boyfriend with intimate photos or your best friend with secrets, you should still refrain from sending either of them any personal information online. You can’t imagine it now, but someday, that information could be distorted and used against you.

4. Who Is This Message For?

Girls taking a selfie with funny propsWhat happens in cyberspace stays in cyberspace—forever! Though you may intend to send your private message or photo to a single recipient, keep in mind that it can be cut, pasted, and forwarded to an infinite number of people. Never post a photo or message that you wouldn’t want “everyone” to be able to view.

While on the subject, be thoughtful about the photos and videos that you allow your peers to take of you. Sometimes, these images start off as fun but can be used in embarrassing ways later on. Always have all of your clothes on and don’t engage in any kind of “joking” behavior on film that can be taken out of context or used against you later on.

5. There Are No “Do Overs.”

Once you put something out there online, it’s almost impossible to take it back. Therefore, always be kind and do not ever use email to say ugly, nasty, or mean things about anyone or to anyone. Stop and ask yourself, “What would Mom think if she read this?” Post accordingly.

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WinGate Therapy
WinGate Therapy

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