As if being a foster parent weren’t challenging enough, online social media has made the life of a child more complex and potentially dangerous.
However, the benefits for your foster child who uses social media, and the benefits of using it yourself, can also be helpful and productive. Here are five tips for using social media if you’re a foster parent.
1. Know which social media channels are popular with your children
Once you have this information, make an effort to become familiar with the sites. The popularity of social media networks is oddly differentiated, in terms of different age groups and genders, as well as geographies and cultures. The easiest way to find out what’s popular with your children’s network of friends, is simply to ask your children what’s popular!
Here are some examples of the top social media sites:
– Facebook.com: has more than 1 billion users; nearly half access the network via mobile phones
– YouTube.com: primarily for video sharing
– Twitter.com: an entire network consisting of status updates, essentially; popular for following celebrities; it’s like text messaging in a way that everyone can see
– Vine: a subset of Twitter, it’s their video-sharing app
– Instagram: a photo-sharing network with hundreds of millions of users; also has a video-sharing component
– Blogs: there are web logs (“blogs”) online everywhere, and they have community-based social elements to them
2. Understand that everything posted can be seen by everyone
Sure, Facebook and other sites promise to use privacy features (which should definitely be activated whenever possible), but recent hacks, and government invasions of private information, should make us all aware that anything we post (photos, text, videos, etc.) may possibly be seen publicly.
Even in a situation where content is posted privately, any person in your private network could (knowingly or unknowingly) pass on the information in a way that it becomes more accessible to the public.
They could take a screen shot and post it online, they could share a status update to their own profiles, or they could do absolutely anything with that content after saving it to their computer, which is always a possibility. Just remember: if you wouldn’t want the entire world to read it, don’t post it to social media!
3. Remember that bullying is still very real, and has moved online
Bullying is one of the most unpleasant features of growing up, and social media has brought a new wrinkle to it. Remember that rumor in junior high that someone spread about you? Today’s bullies can spread it wide and fast, and to the entire school and social groups, via social media.
Be prepared to comfort your child if he or she gets bullied, or to take action against the bully. Equally important, don’t let your child slip into becoming a bully himself, because as we all know, it may start innocently, as a subtle joke, but can escalate horribly.
4. Have clearly established rules and precautions for social media usage, for your children
You can find great examples of social media parenting rules for foster parents online, and lots of great software to monitor your child for safety and basic structure.
5. Understand that change is the only constant
The social media landscape is new and changing on a daily basis. Don’t expect it to stay the same, any more than you’d expect fashion in clothes or automobiles to stay the same … especially for teenagers!
Make it a habit to check in at least quarterly with your child, to see what’s popular. It really does change that fast, and if you’re planning to become a foster parent or already are one, you’ll want to make sure you’re ready for social media!