Why Social Media Is A Lot Like Driving: 5 Tips to Keep Kids Safe on Smartphones

Teens Busy on Cell PhonesA Guest Post from Laura Tierney, a Social Media expert and founder of The Social Institute

If you’re the parent of a tween or teen, you know how important smartphones have become to this generation. Like the newfound freedom of getting a driver’s license, getting a smartphone means fresh independence and more ways to connect with friends (and yes, possibly strangers).

Like driving, there are many benefits to having a smartphone, however, the consequences for misuse can be high. So, how can we coach our kids to use this powerful device safely and positively? Let’s take a cue from Driver’s Ed.

When it’s time for our kids to drive, they aren’t simply handed keys to a car after a quick lecture about the importance of seat belts and speed limits. Instead, we buckle up alongside them and start down the road together. And we don’t start on a freeway during rush-hour. We begin in the driveway, and then on back roads, and the progression continues as our kids show readiness.

Parents must do the same with social media, which is now one of the biggest drivers of a student’s social development.

When it comes to driving, parents and educators team up to empower the kids. And that’s exactly how it needs to be with social media. In our work with students, teachers, and parents, we created–with students and parents–a positive social media curriculum that empowers us to have these important conversations about social media and technology. We believe in huddling with–not helicoptering over–our kids when it comes to social media.

Social Institute CTA

Here are five conversations you should have to keep kids safe on their smartphones:

1. Before Getting a License, Get a Learner’s Permit

A child is ready for their own smartphone only after they’ve proven mature use of a family device. During this learning phase, parents should keep a close eye on their tech use, and talk often about who they are engaging with, what kind of content they are consuming, and what is off limits.

2. Before Starting the Engine, Talk About the Car and What It’s Capable Of

Just like with driver’s ed, we need to teach personal tech basics. Together, we can walk through their device, making sure the privacy settings are correct and that they understand how their device works and what is possible.

3. Before Leaving the Driveway, Agree on a Route

Sign a technology contract so that everyone is aware of what’s expected of them and why when it comes to their smartphones, tablets, or computers. (Check out our Family Standards Agreement or create your own).

4. Before Hitting the Gas, Know How to Brake

Knowing when to shut off our devices is just as important as knowing when to use them. Talk about striking a balance and knowing when it’s time to use that device, and when it’s time to park it (during meals, when doing homework, during family gatherings, at least an hour before bedtime, etc).

5. Before Getting on the Freeway, Discuss the Potential for Road Rage

Things move fast at 65 miles per hour, including tempers. It’s true on social media as well. Kids need to learn and role-play how they will handle the inevitable bumps in the road.

How will they respond when a friend says something mean about someone else on a group chat?
What about getting asked for an inappropriate photo?
How can they shut down cyberbullying?

These are real scenarios that they are likely to encounter, so coach them on how to handle these road hazards ahead of time.

Final Thoughts

More freedom means more responsibility, whether driving a car or navigating social media. Buckle up alongside your child and provide small steps of independence over time, letting them know you’ll always be available to talk about any obstacle they face on the road of life.

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About the Author

Laura Tierney is mom to a toddler and founder of The Social Institute creators of #WinAtSocial, a pioneering new curriculum now available for K-12 schools across the country. #WinAtSocial is the first-ever gamified and positive social media curriculum, being used by schools to support their digital citizenship and social emotional learning programs. For more information or to request a demo for your school, visit www.TheSocialInstitute.com.

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