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Maria Shriver

Life Ed: How To Talk To Your 13 Year-Old About Social Media

This week, Life Ed explores the social media conversation every parent should have with their 13 year-old.

Linnette Attai is the founder of PlayWell, LLC, a compliance consultancy specializing in media and marketing intended for young consumers, and focused on issues of digital and mobile privacy and safety. Previously, Attai served as Vice President, Standards & Practices for Nickelodeon and as a compliance executive with CBS. She is also a Compliance Advisor for iKeepSafe, a non-profit committed to keeping kids safe in the digital space. Here, she shares her expert advice on how talk to young teens about social media.

Reality Check

In this age of connected technology, youth are leading the charge. In fact, 81% of teens are using social networking websites, with Facebook alone boasting a teen user base of almost 10 million.

Kids are making friends online, sharing information about themselves, and trying to navigate their social lives.

All of this can be worrisome for parents struggling to find the balance between embracing the good that technology has to offer with real concerns about potential dangers.

Teens often look to peers and parents for advice on how to navigate the digital world, so be prepared with some of the basics:

Age Matters

You must be at least 13 years-old to join Facebook and most other social networking sites. Yet 7.5 million pre-teens are on Facebook, many with their parents’ permission. Think of the age limit as a “Keep out of reach of children” warning label. Allowing your child to lie about their age to access a website can open them up to safety risks. Remain firm and don’t enable it.

Learn About Privacy

Sit down with your teen and explore their favorite sites together. Learn about the privacy options each site offers and discuss what settings seem most appropriate. Let them teach you what they know, and talk with them about what you may not be comfortable with them sharing online and why.

Talk About Friends

The typical teen on Facebook has 300 friends. Does your child have 300 friends in the real world? Sometimes teens seek out a high number of friends as a measure of popularity and self-worth, and connecting with strangers can pose a safety risk. Help them deepen friendships with people they already know in the real world and remain strong enough to not get swept up in the numbers game.

Behave

Cyberbullying is a very real and complicated issue. Remind your teen that words can hurt, whether delivered face-to-face or online. Encourage your child to tell you, a teacher, coach or other trusted adult if they see others behaving badly online. The site should be told as well, so be sure you and your teen know how to report a concern on each site they frequent.

Reputation

What seemed like a fun party photo can give the wrong impression to a college admissions officer, athletic scout or future boss. Anything that ends up online can be shared and made public. Sometimes just knowing that a favorite teacher or coach may see it will be enough to get your teen to think twice before they post.

Finally, talking to your children about online privacy and safety is best when it’s an ongoing dialogue.

Each time you talk to your kids about safety - whether you’re asking them who they’re spending time with, what time they’ll be home or what’s happening with their friends -- include the time they’re spending in the digital world in that conversation.

Remember, the more you know, the more your teen will rely on you for advice, and the better you can work together to create a safe and comfortable online experience for them.

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