Parents of every generation have always found ways to frame messages of safety and success for their children to remember. Parents of past generations, who only had to contend with the offline or real world, intuitively knew that they needed to teach children important lessons about safety and manners rather than assume they'd be understood.
The same holds true for the world of social media that children now inhabit from an increasingly young age. Even though our children are growing up with technology as a part of their everyday lives, they will still make plenty of mistakes. This means we need to have direct conversations with our kids about the comments and posts that they make on social media.
As parents we teach our kids to talk politely so that they know how to speak to others when we're not around. There's no guarantee they'll look an adult in the eye when they speak to them, but our discussions, reminders and lessons about manners will hopefully hold up when we're not there to prompt.
The same applies to social media. Our conversations and lessons will prepare our kids to be savvy users when we're not around. Here are some ideas to get you started:
1. "Is this worth posting?"
The relatively impersonal nature of social media means that we can post information and pictures with relative anonymity. Also its immediacy means that we can do so without much thought. This means that kids need to be very critical about what they see online. 'Is this accurate?' and 'Is this worth posting?' are two valid questions children can ask when they read posts placed by others.
2. "Have you taken a big breath?"
A child who says the first thing that comes to mind is sure to put plenty of people offside. "Think before you speak" is the type of message that every child should have rattling around in his head. The same principle applies to social media. Just because a child or young person thinks something doesn't mean they post it. "Take a big breath" may just about be the most important message to give your kids about social media.
3. "So, you want the principal to see this."
An invitation to a teenage birthday party posted on social media is one way to get more attendees than you bargained for. The viral nature of social media means that kids should only post messages and photos that they want to be spread and read by a large audience.
4. "How does this post make you feel?"
We need to teach kids that not every post needs to be commented upon and not every thought needs to be shared, particularly when they are angry. Teaching them to walk away and then to step back in when they've calmed down is perhaps the most important communication lesson of all. It is very relevant to social media as emotions are often the last thing on many people's minds when they haphazardly post a message.
5. "How will you fix this?"
Social media, just like any social space, requires kids to behave ethically and with kindness. When kids overstep the mark and post hurtful things then it's fair that they fix their mistakes and apologise. It's reasonable that we teach our children to act with tolerance and with empathy online, and if hurtful messages or images are posted on social media then they should try to repair relationships, just as they should offline.
I agree with Galit Breen, author of Kindness Wins, who says that parents should have conversations with children around social media before they reach the teenage years. Starting these conversations when they are younger means that they are more open to our parenting opinions, as well as being a little more amenable to the messages of tolerance, kindness and empathy that we need to encourage.