• BY REBECCA VAUGHAN, THE TIMES AUGUST 16, 2012

    Visit Rebecca and the other Social Chicks at www.facebook.com/thesocialchicks

    If you have been to a presentation on kids and social media, you have probably heard a lot of scary stories. Inappropriate comments, photos, revealing personal information and cyber bullying all come to mind.

    Social media certainly can be used in negative ways by kids and teenagers, but it’s often their main method of communication with their friends, similar to talking on the phone when their parents were growing up. And like it or not, social media is not going away.

    It’s important to remember that there are many positive ways that kids can connect and socialize online, and as parents, it’s our job to guide them to ensure this happens.

    I have seen teenagers having conversations about political issues, alongside other comments like “Who wants to go to the movies?”

    My son was able to quickly connect and get to know new friends at his new school last fall via Facebook, skipping the awkward getting-to-know-you phase.

    When used thoughtfully, social media can be a great tool for kids to connect with others in their lives.

    But, before you allow your child to open an account on a social media network, first consider if they are old enough.

    Facebook’s rules technically do not allow children under the age of 13 to sign up for an account, but I challenge you to find many 11-and 12-year olds without one.

    Also, decide whether your child is mature enough to understand the consequences of what they post and share online, and what some of that content might mean to them if it were made public, even years later.

    If you choose to let your child join a social media network, here are a few safety tips:

    1. Insist on knowing the passwords to their accounts, even if you don’t check them. No “secret accounts” allowed.

    2. Open your own account and follow or friend your child, and check your account frequently.

    3. Respect their space online. Don’t embarrass them by frequently commenting, tweeting, posting, or tagging them.

    4. Talk about what is appropriate to post and what is not, and be sure to model this in your own Facebook posts.

    5. Make sure they understand the permanence of what they post – even if they delete something, it is never gone forever, and can be resent elsewhere.

    6. Talk about cyber bullying and what it means to be bullied, and what it means to be a cyber bully.

    7. Clearly communicate consequences to irresponsible online behaviour.

    The Social Chicks work with local agencies and businesses to teach them how to use social media and build their social media strategy.

    Free monthly sessions on social media for business are held at the Chamber of Commerce serving Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows. The next session will be Thursday, Aug. 30 at the chamber office, 22238 Lougheed Hwy. People can contact the chamber at 604-463-3366 for details.

    – Rebecca Vaughan is a Maple Ridge communications and public relations consultant. Send questions to her and The Social Chicks here

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