• child using computer

    Photo from toronto4kids.com

    Whether we like it or not, our children are growing up in a digital world. In fact, we could say that it is fairly common to find that more and more kids are using email and social media to communicate with their family members and peers.

    In fact, according to an article on the U.K.-based news site The Daily Mail, more than half of children use social media by the time they reach 10, with Facebook cited as the most popular site that young people join.

    In the Philippines, there currently seems to be a lack of similar, recent research, but a 2009 survey done by the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication (AIJC) to UNICEF on “Internet Access and Use By Filipino Schoolchildren” did find that, even then, social media usage among children was becoming quite popular.

    At that time, Friendster was the most popular social networking site (SNS) and, according to the AIJC survey, “maintaining one’s social networking site and visiting others’ social network sites” was “the Number 1 online activity of Filipino school children. Almost 9 of 10 respondents who connect to the Net are members of Friendster.”

    We can imagine, then, how the statistics might be at this present day and age. Suffice it to say that we parents must do what we can to help our kids “navigate” the digital world, and be as safe as they can be when using social media.

    But how do we actually do so? To help us get started, here are some tips from our expert, Michele S. Alignay, MA, RP (Registered Psychologist), lecturer at the Miriam College Department of Psychology, and co-author of Growing Up Wired: Raising Kids in the Digital Age.


    1. Limit usage according to the child's age.
    “Don’t let your children use Facebook or other social networking sites if they are below 13,” Alignay advises. “If you want to let your kids have their own social networking accounts, make sure you screen their contacts and supervise them when they use social media.”

    Donna Donor, an events director for Manila Workshops, shares her personal experience with her almost 9-year-old son Kib:

    “He had been requesting me to have his own Facebook account but I said no and told him that Facebook is not for kids. Recently though, he created his own Instagram account without my knowledge. I freaked out a bit, but when I checked his posts, I saw that they are all fictional, based on "Five Nights at Freddy's" (a video game). I just reminded him not to post his pictures nor tell his location in his posts.”


    2. Teach them to protect their identity.
    Alignay says parents whose kids are on social media should discourage children from “adding strangers and leaving contact details in different sites to prevent them from having ‘digital footprints'.”

    This is actually one of the rules that mom, yoga teacher, and special needs advocate Michelle Ressa Aventajado has for her three kids who are on social media (Gia, 15, Miguel, 13, and Diego, 10): “Never accept friend requests from someone you don't know.”

    In other words, teach your child that a stranger online may pose the exact same dangers (or even worse) as a stranger offline. So, whatever rules you may have about dealing with strangers in the “real world” should apply to the digital world as well.


    3. Respect others.
    “There should be no ‘put-down’ posts of other people,” Alignay cautions, which could lead to incidences of cyber-bullying. “Instead, encourage your child to share only links and posts that would lend help to others.”

    Racquel Guevara, fulltime homemaker and homeschool mom to Arielle, 16, and Kayla, 14, let her kids start using social media when they were around 10 years old. From the very beginning, she has always reminded them to “be smart, be discerning and responsible in using social media.”

    “I recall a few times when I would call their attention to say that what they posted didn't sound right. That was it,” Racquel shares.

    “Since our lines of communication have always been open, we talk and discuss issues, and make faith and character-building a priority all the time. I think that prepared them already to be on social media, even at an early age.”


    4. Do not give too much information about your whereabouts.
    With the rise of kidnapping incidents in the country, there is an increasing need to be vigilant about being careful about the information we share with others.

    This especially applies to one’s current location, as divulging such information may make it easier for us  — and our children — to fall prey to kidnappers and other undesirable elements.

    “Teach your child to stay safe online by never indicating where exactly he or she is at a certain point in time,” Alignay advises.

    To enforce this rule, Agatha Aviso, a freelance writer and mom to Matthew, 15, and Martha, 9, says she doesn’t usually let Matthew — who has several social media accounts — have Internet access when he is out, and also discourages him from “checking in” whenever he is at a certain place.

    Related: Don’t Be a Victim of Kidnapping: 5 Things to Keep in Mind


    5. Go easy on the “selfies” and personal posts.
    As another safety measure, Alignay encourages parents to restrict their children from posting too many “selfies” on social media.

    “It puts too much focus on the self and develops a sense of entitlement,” she explains. “For growing kids, they validate themselves too much based on external beauty rather than finding out — and focusing on — the more important values and traits.’”

    Agatha shares how she also makes sure that her son’s posts are not too “personal.” “No angry or ‘emo’ posts,” she says. “I also DM (direct message) him from time to time when he overtweets, like when he posts random musings, which I find unnecessary.”


    6. Don’t post anything your parents (or grandparents!) and future children would not approve of.
    This probably goes without saying but it should be said anyway: “Make sure that your child knows that he or she should not use language or photos that are provocative,” Alignay advises, "or create content even if there is no intent to post them, because they could be misused by others to your child's disadvantage."

    This is one way to teach your child to respect one’s self and one’s body, and to respect others as well.


    7. Know all the passwords.
    Last, but certainly not the least, help your child stay safe on social media by requiring that you know the passwords to all their social media accounts.

    Millie Manahan, a writer and mom of four, lets her 11- and 12-year olds use Facebook and Instagram but she has all their log-in details. “I check their Facebook accounts, every now and then,” Millie shares. “I told them that anything they want to do on Facebook or Instagram has to be with my consent.”

    Ultimately, like almost anything else in this world, social media can be a good thing — if used responsibly and within the proper limits. Let’s help the latter be true for our kids — and keep them safe — by teaching them how to use social media properly.

    Would you let your kids use social media? Why or why not? Share your thoughts with us by leaving a comment below.

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