Parents: do you know where your children's cell phones are? As herds of kids head back to school this fall, you can expect that their social media use will heat up. Along with increased use are some new (and old) dangers that teachers, parents, coaches, and school administrators will want to be aware of to help kids stay safe and responsible online.
1. Establish boundaries and guidelines
Parents: Establish ground rules for the use of cell phones and devices both at home and at school. Start by having a conversation about how your kids use their phones. Be sure and listen. If your role in their life is just one of policeman and not helper, your kids will likely look to their peers for help with social media. Be savvy about where kids are and what they are doing online. Take a course, do some research, download the apps they use on their phones and try them out. Ask questions about what they think. Ask for their help in learning how to use the apps yourself.
DON'T, however, require them to friend you on their social channels. This is the modern day version of sneaking into a kid's bedroom to read their diary or rifle through their belongings when they are at school to discover what they are up to. Build trust by building a relationship with them, not their social media. Ask them frequent questions. Don't be nosy, be inquisitive.
Teachers/Coaches: Don't be afraid to ask your students to check their phones at the door if you're in K-12 education. If you are a coach, make sure you have strict guidelines about how phones can be used in locker rooms. If you're in higher education, establish rules about cell phone use on the first day of classes. Some instructors like students to have their phones on for interaction and web searching. Others loathe their presence. If you allow students to have phones on, make sure you guidelines defining distracting behavior. A student sitting in a seat constantly texting is a distraction to other students. Notifications and sound should be muted.
2. Stay current on what's going on in the social media world
Being a proactive parent, teacher, or coach takes some work. If you don't know what Snapchat is and how to use it, you are way behind. Search the internet regularly for new apps that kids use. This list from Gaggle is a good start. However, you'll want to know more than just their names. Be aware of the apps that are dangerous like Yik Yak, ask.fm, and 4chan. Know what kids are using them for and ask students what they think of those apps. Just knowing what and how will help you gain respect with your kids and students. It's a sign that you care about their world. It doesn't take a lot of time to see how these apps work. If you want to circumvent the process of downloading the apps and trying them out, do some online research. There are many articles available online explaining how the apps work and what their dangers are.
3. Be aware of how social media is used for cyber harassment, and educate
There are four basic types on cyber harassment that affect students and athletes: bullying, receiving unsolicited inappropriate material, account impersonation, and bad behavior by angry sports fans. Educate students on each and how to lower their risk of being a victim. Often cyber harassment education programs focus on the behavior and how to report it, but students need to know what kinds of behavior increase their risk of cyber harassment. Teacher, administrators, and coaches need to seriously consider training students on the responsible use of social media. Educate students about privacy settings, who to follow, how to block people or report account impersonations, and also how to post responsibly. Athletes need to understand that angry fans may aim their frustrations at individual athletes. Sports fans are highly emotional and often take to social media to dump on athletes and coaches. Teach kids to take screenshots and save. If the offending behavior is a pattern, or kids need help dealing with the harassment, make sure they know how, when, and to whom to report the behavior to.
Administrators need to be proactive about hunting down bullies, threats, and harassment. Schools and teams should establish strict guidelines about harassing online behavior with appropriate consequences for the offenders. Make cyber harassment an undesirable behavior by treating it that way publicly.
4. Offer social media classes for parents and students at all ages
Teaching parents, instructors, and students how to use social media responsibly should be a base part of every education curriculum from elementary school through college. If we teach our children how to be responsible with their bodies, we also need to teach them how to be responsible with their phones. Responsible use doesn't happen by accident. Make social media instruction a mandatory curriculum. If you don't have resources, seek out help. At the K-12 level, there are numerous websites like Common Sense Media and others that offer help and curriculum to parents and schools.
If you are in higher education, look for qualified social media trainers that have experience with education and athletics. This is usually not your local marketing agency. Network with other institutions to find leads to qualified trainers. Make sure the training addresses the four most important areas of responsible use: privacy and security, best practices (who, what, when where to post), cyber harassment, and personal branding (using social media to build your reputation). If they don't cover these, find someone who does. Also, make sure the training is age appropriate.
5. Consider establishing a "No-Cell Zone"
Experts caution that stimulation of lit device screens can cause sleep troubles if used right up to bedtime. Start by establishing a quiet time about an hour before bed with no computer or cell phone interaction. You may need to have your kids "check their phones at the door" but the health benefits will be worth the hassle. If they use an alarm, consider going back to the traditional digital alarm clock rather than having them sleep with their phones bedside.
Also consider encouraging a time each day to unplug-this goes for everyone. This is especially important for college students and athletes whose sleep times are probably not as regular as they were in high school.
If you've got any other back-to-school social media tips to share, please leave them in the comments and keep the conversation going.