Keeping Track of Your Teens(and Tweens) on Twitter
"Mom, can I have a Twitter account?"
You knew the day was coming, and it's here. The day your toddler walks up to you and asks if they can be a part of the phenomenon that is Twitter. Okay, it's probably not your toddler, but it might as well be. The thought of your child going out into that Twitter-universe is scary. You've heard bad things about Twitter. You've read where certain celebrities have raised eyebrows with controversial tweets. You've seen on the news where one young singer was threatened on Twitter. Scariest of all - you've heard of teenagers being stalked on Twitter by adults posing as kids.
So, do you tell you child, "Not no, but heck no!"? Or, do you allow them to join the millions(billions?) of people tweeting their way into oblivion? Most importantly, how do you keep track of your kids once they become "tweeters"(is that a word?)?
How Old is "Old Enough"?
"Everybody else's parents let them!" How many of us have heard that from our kids? I've heard it about everything from wearing two piece bathing suits to drinking soda with dinner. Social media is yet another one of those things that it seems like "everybody else" gets to do...everybody except your poor, deprived child.
Face it. Your child WILL eventually have a Twitter account. It may not be today. It may not be tomorrow. It may not be until they move out of your house, but he or she WILL have one. You have to decide whether you want them to experience this phenomenon for the first time at home(with monitoring) or on their own. Hmm...what's a parent to do?
Unlike Facebook, Twitter doesn't have an age restriction. (Although, let's be honest....Facebook's "age restriction" is laughable.) Anyone with internet access can have a Twitter account. Knowing that children of all ages are reading some of the junk on Twitter is a bit disturbing. How do you know when YOUR child is ready to handle twitter?
You have to know your child. You may be saying, "What's that supposed to mean? I know my child better than I know myself!" Calm down. Of course, you know your child. You brought him/her into this world, and you have lived closely with them for the past (insert number) years. What I mean is you have to make this decision based on your individual child. No two people are alike. Just because one 15 year-old can be on Twitter and be fine with it, another 15 year-old may not handle it so well. Knowing your child's maturity level, ability to put things in perspective, and confidence in themselves and their beliefs can help you know whether he/she is ready to tweet.
Once you've decided that your child is Twitter-ready, you need to devise a way to monitor his/her activity on the social site.
Now, I know that some would say that checking a child's text messages, tweets, photos, etc is an "invasion of privacy". My opinion is this - if my child is out there on the internet sharing things with the world, then privacy has already flown out the window.
I'm not suggesting that you follow your kid's every move on social media. First of all, that would be exhausting, and when would you eat and sleep? Random checks every few days is plenty. Once you are confidant with your child's ability to handle what they see and to come to you if there's a problem, you can back off somewhat.
Many parents have their kids' username and password. This is an excellent way to check in on your child's account.
You might be asking yourself, "What if my child has a secret account?" First of all, gasp! Surely,our precious angels would never devise a plan so diabolical as to have a "dummy account" and a real one that they keep a secret! Unfortunately, many kids are THAT smart(and diabolical). Thankfully, there are ways to check on this too. If your child uses a pc for his/her tweeting needs, checking the history of the computer can help you see everywhere that child has been. If a smart-phone is used, random checks of said phone can alert you to any unseemly activity.
Now, some of you may have a child who can work around anything you try. If that's the case, I don't know what to tell you. Maybe, take all technology away? My kids aren't that tech-savvy, so I don't have to worry about that...yet. Oh, and I was kidding about taking the technology away(sort of).
Miley Cyrus said WHAT?
The day will come when you are looking at your child's Twitter account, and you will see something that causes your parental sirens to sound. It might be something tweeted by a celebrity, a friend, an anonymous account(read "stranger"), or - God forbid - your child. What do you do?
First, calm yourself down. Freaking out every time you read something sketchy on Twitter will only make matters worse. Remember, you already decided that your little angel could handle it. You need to show by example HOW to handle it.
While you shouldn't freak out, you shouldn't ignore either. Wait until your alone with your child, and ask them about it. "So, I saw what Justin Beiber tweeted. What did you think about that?" Hopefully, this will open up the lines of communication, and he/she will talk to you about it. In a calm, mature discussion, you can make your opinions known without sounding like the mortified parent that you are.
Let's Get Serious
Obviously, if you see tweets directed toward your child that are inappropriate, you have to act quickly. Talk to your child about the person - who are they, how do they know them, etc? Discuss why this is wrong, and block the person. If that doesn't work, change your child's account information. He/she might not be too happy with you for awhile, but whatever. Your job is to protect your kids, and let's face it...there are freaks out there. My kids know that if they argue with me about how I monitor them on social media, the accounts and devices used to access those accounts are gone.
The Big Picture
Our kids are growing up in a world much different from when we were their age. We have to be more on our toes and work harder at keeping our kids safe than our parents ever did. Our parents didn't have to worry about millions of people having access to their child. They didn't need to have little talks with us about something Scott Baio or Kristie McNichol might have said. We had no idea what celebrities were really like, other than what was printed in Tiger Beat. (Wow, I just showed my age there, did I?)
The truth is, we have to be more diligent than parents of years past. Our kids are exposed to things that many of us didn't even know about until college. Sad, but true.
A little common sense, a lot of discussions, and some diligent parenting can make sure our kids' experiences with Twitter - and other social media - is safe.