Source: Indys Child Parenting Magazine

Tweets, Hashtags, Likes and Selfies
Navigating the landscape of social media

by Katrina Anne Willis

March 01, 2014

Instagram, Twitter, Ask.fm, SnapChat, Vine… so appealing to kids and so worrisome for parents. How do families decide what they will and won’t allow their children to use?

For Kim Leonard, Indianapolis mother of three, it’s a full-time job – one she takes very seriously.

“Both my 7th and 5th grade girls are allowed to have Instagram accounts, and my 7th grader also has a Twitter account. I scroll through the girls’ feeds several times a day, and I have their login information stored in my phone. They know I can access their accounts at any time, and I think that knowledge helps guide them to make appropriate decisions.”

Mary is a local eighth grader with Tumbler, Instagram, Facebook, SnapChat and Twitter accounts.

“I don’t really use Facebook much,” she says. “My parents and their friends use it more than I do. I love using SnapChat to stay connected with my friends who live in other states. But my mom tells me a thousand times a day, ‘Remember, nothing that you post online ever really goes away.’ I get it, Mom.”

For the Leonards, certain social media platforms are off-limits in their home. “We don’t allow the girls to use Facebook, SnapChat, Vine, Ask.fm, or Hot or Not. Yes, Hot or Not is an actual app that lets kids weigh in on someone else’s level of attractiveness. I know digital media is part of our current culture, and I don’t want to completely ban my kids from learning to use it appropriately, but some of the more ‘anonymous’ apps, in my opinion, are just asking for trouble. I’ve read some cruel and obscene things on Ask.fm accounts. My daughter had an Ask.fm account for a short time and after reading some of the middle school drama that transpired there, I made her delete it. Surprisingly enough, she didn’t really care. Those kids have enough drama to deal with on a daily basis without inviting more in through social media.”

Mary says she’s never personally experienced online bullying through social media, but she has heard about it happening. “I don’t have an Ask.fm account, but I’ve heard that’s where a lot of bullying happens. People are anonymous there, so they say things they wouldn’t necessarily say in person. . . I like to use Tumbler to debate things that I feel passionately about.”

For Kim and her husband, Brad, establishing some social media rules up front was a critical part of their parenting strategy. “When the girls first got their phones, they were required to sign a contract outlining our expectations and their usage parameters. We also require our girls to plug their devices in downstairs when they go to bed, and they’re not allowed to text with their friends after a certain time. My kids also know that I can access and read anything on their phones at any time. They know these devices are not their personal diaries, and that they’re too young to have online ‘privacy.’ That knowledge alone, I think, is an important part of helping them establish positive and healthy social media habits.”

For more information about social media monitoring options, Kim suggests exploring the restrictions offered on individual devices and researching Mobile Spy and Stealth Genie. Their family also relies on the guidelines provided by commonsensemedia.org.

The Leonards also believe in a community approach to social media. Kim has made it very clear to her friends that she wants to know if they witness her girls acting inappropriately. “They’re learning right now,” she says. “And it’s our job to teach them good digital citizenship. With a solid foundation, they’ll be able to make positive decisions for themselves when they’re older.”