Kids growing up in the social media world today have a lot more opportunities to connect with their peers from all around the world. It’s often an exciting and educational experience. And for parents, it can be a scary one.
Some parents may choose to ban social media altogether, but in a world where friendships and opportunities seem to rely so heavily on it, that’s not always the best option. Sometimes it’s not even possible. And while parents are catching up on the world of Facebook, Twitter is one social network that still eludes many adults who now have kids reaching puberty. So if your child insists on wanting to have a Twitter account, what can you do to keep him or her safe?
Limit personal information.
Talk to your kid about what kind of things are acceptable for them to post on Twitter. Maybe you don’t want their last name on their account. Definitely avoid things like phone numbers or addresses. Talk to them about taking pictures or posting tweets that give away their current location or upcoming schedule. Keep tabs on whether or not they do these things, but also remember that a lot of kids don’t think this way just yet, and sharing personal information may be an accident rather than willful disobedience.
Lock their account.
Twitter makes it easy to lock your account. What this means is that your child will be able to read anyone’s tweets, but only people they (or you) have approved of to follow them will be able to read their tweets and send them private messages. This will put a barrier in between your child forming relationships with people you are unfamiliar with on Twitter, or being targeted by someone who is a negative influence in their life.
Limit their access.
A lot of people have Twitter on their computer, on their phones, and on other mobile devices. Limit that. Only allow them to access Twitter on the family computer, or during certain hours. You probably don’t need to constantly be behind them watching their every move, but even being in a position where they know a parent could walk behind them and see what they’re doing at any moment can help keep kids thinking about what they should vs. shouldn’t be doing online.
Certain apps (such as Tweetbot) allow you to mute keywords so that any tweets containing them don’t show up in your timeline. This can be tricky, because context can often mean a lot, but if there are certain things you know you don’t want your kid to see, find an app that serves this purpose, head on over to settings, and set up your list of words to filter out. Be aware that your kid will be able to see this list from his account, so make sure you discuss it with him so he knows what’s happening and why. Keep a backup list for yourself so you can make sure he hasn’t removed anything thinking you won’t have noticed.
Set guidelines for who your child can and cannot follow on Twitter up front. Don’t necessarily make it super strict (“ONLY friends of yours I’ve met”), as that can often just encourage rebellion, but set up a system where if she follows anybody new, she has to run it by you first. Sit together and look over the person’s Twitter feed, let her explain to you why she wants to follow them (if they aren’t someone she knows personally), and come to a decision based on that.
Be on Twitter.
Follow your child on Twitter. He may not like it, but remind him that Twitter is a public forum. There are places for him to have private conversations with his friends that even you as a parent are not privy to, but this is not it. You may waive this if your kid keeps his or her account locked, but that’s up to you.
You can also do periodic checks, particularly if you don’t want to be on Twitter yourself. Let him know every once in awhile you reserve the right to read through his tweets, the tweets of people he’s following, and the list of people he’s following to make sure it’s in line with how you feel comfortable with him utilizing the website.
Another thing you can do is search his username or real name (which can be hit or miss depending on how common it is) on Twitter and see if other users are talking about him. If you’re worried a bullying situation is being kept from you, this may be one way to to keep an eye out.
Open communication is always the most important, and often the most difficult, with kids, especially teens. Reassure your child that she can talk to you about any inappropriate things happening on Twitter or social media, and that your concern is not to blame her, but to keep her safe.
But make sure the communication goes both ways. Ask your child why they want to be on Twitter, what they’re hoping to get out of it. Some kids just want to follow their favorite celebrities, or post pictures of themselves with their friends. For other kids, it may be a platform on which they can connect with friends (real life or online) and feel less lonely if they’re having trouble maintaining the same connections in school. Listen to them, and respect their feelings if they’re honest with you. If you stress to your child that this isn’t just something to monitor or wield parental control over, and that you want to work together with them to find a safe and advantageous way for them to access Twitter, they will be more likely to be honest with you and respect your boundaries, as well.