Twitter has evolved over the past decade to mean different things to different people. For adults, the platform has morphed from an epic waste of time to a go-to, daily news source and marketing channel. For kids, it’s a fun place to follow celebrities, a place to see and be seen, and a digital mall of cultural trends.
Twitter has become an ever-streaming global water cooler that makes a big world seem smaller, and you can bet, it will attract and keep your child’s attention before long.
With that in mind, it’s also a very public water cooler, a place where useful, informative tweets, as well as unwise tweets, attract attention.
Just one tweet can get you fired, expelled, arrested, and even jailed. In the past, the social hub has been a magnet for cyberbullying, political attacks, and full-on rants. Fortunately, Twitter has added some anti-abuse measures to help curb the very public bullying.
Tweeting Teens: Family Talking Points
- Every tweet matters. Because Twitter moves swiftly in 140-word phrases, it’s easy to forget that once a mean, impulsive, or inappropriate tweet is posted, everyone — everyone — can see it. Sure, you can rethink and delete a hurtful tweet, but by then, there’s a chance someone may have taken it may have been screen shot by someone, retweeted, or posted on another platform. Impulsivity, cruelty, and irresponsible comments on Twitter have been linked to devastating cyberbullying cases.
- Discuss the subtweet. A subtweet is a Twitter post that refers to a particular person without directly mentioning them by name. Typically, a subtweet is critical and can be considered. Reading through your child’s twitter stream is important because subtweeting negative or mocking tweets can ignite a digital firestorm that blows both ways. Your child could be the one getting bullied or the bullying. So, look for the subtweet and discuss the harm in them. See an example of a subtweet to the right.
- Keep your Twitter account private. Why this is so tough for teens to do (mine included), I do not know. I’m guessing that insisting a Twitter account be public has to do with wanting to get more likes and retweets. However, for safety, teen Twitter accounts should be set to private. A private account means anyone who wants to follow your child’s profile and view daily tweets must be accepted by your child. It’s easy to make an account private: Click on Settings > Account > check the box marked Protect My Tweets. A private account reduces strangers following your child, bullying, and publically sharing of personal information.
- Set consequences for reckless tweets. You think they know. They assure you they know. But do kids really know the fallout that can come from one reckless tweet? It’s worth repeating: Do not post racy photos, mean comments or photos, personal information, or where you are hanging out with your friends. No connecting with strangers, or posting any threats in a joking manner. Set consequences should your teen go out of bounds on these firm rules and more importantly, enforce the consequences.
- Encourage empathy. Few stories warm the heart more than seeing kids stick up for other kids in a public setting. Character traits like empathy, integrity, compassion, and kindness can go viral just as quickly — and far more powerfully — than cruelty. Encourage your child to be aware others online, to look out for anyone being mocked, and to be intentional about helping kindness go viral in the digital space. One of the most efficient ways to instill compassion in your child? By living and expressing empathy and compassion in your own digital life.
- No sharing passwords. Often, to show camaraderie and mutual trust, teens share their social media passwords. They like to have fun and jokingly post on a friend’s timeline. Friend or not, this is a dangerous practice and no friendship is crisis-proof. Just say no to password sharing.
- Put mental health first. When it comes to social media, too much can be harmful. Studies show that excessive time on social media sites such as Twitter can cause feelings of self-loathing and unhappiness in teens. Think about establishing tech-free zones (dinner table, car) and phone curfews (no phones from 8 PM to 8 AM) to curb time online.
- Report abuses. Reiterate to your kids that they need to come to you with the more serious conflicts that break out online. Teach them how to handle haters and the random creepy people who may attempt to connect with them. Visit Twitter’s Safety Center for specifics.
As intimidating as Twitter may seem to non-tweeting parents, it’s important to learn the basics. If you aren’t on Twitter and your child is, then it may be time to open an account, which is easy just start here. Once you are there, take time to not only learn but explore the benefits – Twitter can be great resource.
The community on Twitter is a culture all its own, so to coach your kids through the rough spots they hit — and they will hit rough spots, you need a working knowledge of the platform. Get to know the lingo. Words like hashtag, blocks, retweets, @ symbols, DMs are terms you may want to know. Here’s a short Twitter lingo guide.
Be sure to review your teen’s account weekly to make sure he or she is using Twitter well and respecting the ground rules you’ve set. Know that kids may go rogue. They may change privacy settings, subtweet from time to time, and accept friends they don’t know to boost their follower count. Just reign them back in and follow through with consequences.
Are your kids on Twitter? What family talking points or tips can you add to our list?
Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee.