When I was a junior in college, someone asked me if I was on Facebook. I'd never heard of it, checked it out, and signed up.
It seems like it used to be just that--just Facebook. Of course, it never really was, even when Facebook was new. There was still livejournal and myspace and so on, but Facebook was so clean, efficient, and uncluttered.
I have seven nieces and nephews. When they got old enough, they joined Facebook. When they were old enough, they were texting. I always interacted with them, so I learned the text speak quickly. Because I was the cool aunt, they told me about the new social media they were joining so that I could join too.
At the time, it was just a way to be able to talk to them, since phone calls were CLEARLY too burdensome and out of the question. It slowly dawned on me that my generation, and certainly people even a few years older, had no clue what was going on. They were all still on Facebook, and thought it was the only thing, or at least the biggest and most important thing out there. Even better, maybe they weren't even on Facebook, because they had just graduated college and missed the wave.
These people are my age. These people are my friends, my family, and even my husband. These people have kids, and they have no idea what the social media world looks like. They never got involved, or they didn't stay involved, or they didn't evolve with it.
Sure, you know Facebook. Maybe even Twitter. Instagram? Check, though seriously, WHY are we ignoring the advances in technology and trying to return to the Polaroid camera look? Do you know Path? Kik? Skout? Vine? Formspring? Tumblr? The mind boggles at the list I could make.
How about what the Deepnet is and the delightful websites you can find there, if you know what you're doing? Anything is for sale, and it's [almost] fool proof and anonymous.
If you are a parent, and a nontech savvy parent, it's not the way to be right now. The things I see on my docket that kids get into through social media is appalling. The way predators have access to them through these same things is even worse, and it's not a scare tactic. It's real, and I've seen it happen to many, many children on my docket.
It's not hard to brush up though. Obviously, Lis is way too young to worry about social media right now, except what I put out there. However, the approach I've taken (and at this point, it is a deliberate approach rather than an accidental one like it was before) is to join. I'm joining all the social networks that seems to be relevant and generating buzz and interest. I may not really use them right now, but I get a feel for them and what the problems and benefits may be.
That may not be the approach for you. If you want to be aware, but not in it all, I recommend the following:
***Bonus citation--most of my research was done on these sites, though much is common sense.
From there, those sites will take you to a whole host of other useful places.
For what it's worth, here are the tips that are largely accepted as being the most effective:
1. Denial doesn't work. Pretending the Internet or texting doesn't exist will not work. Denial about how your child would never do XYZ does not work. Denial in the form of "Well, I will wait until he/she asks or until he/she is older" will not work.
2. Engage. Find truly kid friendly networks. They are out there. Have your child join, and then play the games on the website with your child. Social media isn't all bad--it can be used to supplement education, learn digital literacy, learn social skills, and develop and share interests.
3. There are conversations you have to have--be prepared. You need to talk about sharing personal information, what reputation is and how they and other people can influence it, and how the "Golden Rule" applies in Internet Land (if you don't like it/not allowed to it offline, then it's a no-go online). You also need to ask questions--what are they doing online? What networks do they participate in?
4. Limits--they're needed. There needs to be limits for screen time, for certain network time, for texting, for when it is okay to accept friends and followers, what kinds of things can be posted, etc. This is part of the conversation you have to have with your child.
5. Know the rules. Know CIPA and COPPA. It's illegal for a child to join certain social networks, such as Facebook, before the age of 13. Do you encourage your child to break the rules at home? No? So why would you let them join Facebook before they are permitted to do so? Know all the rules of the social network your child is on, especially what the ever evolving privacy rules are.
6. Be the adult, and use your common sense. Change passwords. Do searches on a search engine to see what pops up on your child. Then act accordingly. Make good use of the safety features on your computers and other devices that connect to the Internet.
7. Determine the acceptable level of access to technology. Do you have a home computer? Where is it? If it's in the basement, away from prying eyes, that may not be the best spot. Do you let your kids have a cell phone, or an iPod touch, or another device that connect to the Internet? If so, do they get to keep it with them at all times? I bet you would find some text messages, etc., at ungodly hours of the night.
8. Determine your search standard. So when do you start looking into your child's email, text messages, social network accounts, etc? When does safety outweigh a child's growing need for privacy? I've seen people approach it in the following three ways: (A) Total access to all accounts and devices, and possession of all passwords. This is usually accompanied by regular searches. (B) The "trust but verify" method, which usually has some access, but only random spot checks of accounts and devices are done. (C) The "reasonable suspicion" method, which is pretty much hands off, unless and until it looks like there may be a problem, as indicated by grades, behavior, etc. Then, full access is demanded and all activity is heavily monitored.
It's not going away. If you're not paying attention, you're getting left behind--but your kids aren't. I suggest jumping on the bandwagon in some shape or form.