I had the opportunity to talk to middle school kids about social media and staying safe online. After I was done with my presentation, I asked them for their advice on social media. You see my husband and I recently agreed to let our oldest son sign up for an Instagram account. Instagram is a photo sharing site that allows you to upload photos and videos. He had been asking for a while and it was important to him, so after discussing it we agreed to let him join under the following conditions:
- We would always have the password.
- A parent had to approve every picture, follow request, and comment before he posted it to ensure it was appropriate. This is not a permanent rule but it helps us guide him through different aspects and is helping us get comfortable with him being on social media.
- If he posts something in appropriate, he loses his Instagram account.
- If a friend posts something we feel is inappropriate, he can no longer follow that friend.
- If he sees anything inappropriate, he is to come and talk to us about it.
At the beginning of my talk with the middle school kids, I asked how many of them had cell phones. Almost every hand immediately shot into the air. Most had iPhones, the rest had Androids, and one had a flip phone (poor guy, he was immediately mocked by his peers). I asked what social media apps they used and the majority replied Instagram. I learned that Facebook is for old people, aka myself, their parents, and grandparents.
I explained that my son had just joined Instagram and asked for their advice on how I can help keep him safe and to be smart with social media. Their advice was more useful than I expected.
- Set the account to private
- Only accept requests from people you know
- Follow them on Instagram with your own account
- Don’t post any personal information like your address, phone number, etc.
We were already doing the four listed above, so I was feeling pretty smart at this point. Then they gave me the following advice and I was blown away by how smart and simple their advice was.
- Only post pictures of you or your stuff, don’t post pictures of anyone else – Their reasoning was this keeps others from getting upset that you posted a picture of them.
- Don’t let him follow celebrity accounts, not because of what the celebrity would post but because of what others put in the comments that you don’t want him to see. – I checked a few celebrity accounts and their advice was spot on. The comments are not something I am comfortable letting my son see right now.
- Don’t take pictures in the bathroom – This seems obvious to me but appears to be an issue in middle school. They thought it was important, so we are going to add it to our list of rules.
- Follow their friends so you can see what they are posting – I think this is good advice but I’m not sure if I will follow it. I like the idea of having direct access to what my son is seeing but I’m not sure if I’m comfortable with having his friends follow me. I think this is a decision each family needs to make for themselves.
Listening to their advice was a good time to bring up The Grandmother Rule.
The Grandmother Rule states, do not post anything online (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) that you would not want your grandmother to see. Yes, it is that simple.
These middle schoolers and my son are navigating brand new territory. They are the first generation to grow up with social media and we are the first generation of parents trying to manage and moderate our children’s access to, and behavior on, social media. We can’t look to another generation to see how they handled it. Its up to us, child and parent, to figure this out together. I am glad I had the opportunity to ask them for their advice and they were happy to be asked for their advice and to impart their wisdom on an old person like me.