Several posts by Dr. Burgert about social media and kids are a good primer for parents navigating the ins and outs of online activities. The information is applicable to all kids, including those with special needs. Parenting Children with Special Needs caught up with Dr. Burgert to ask a few more questions. Read the posts at KCKidsDoc.com. Search “social media” to find “Addicted to Pinterest: 4 Reasons Why Social Media Age Limits Matter,” and “Tips for Parents: Social Media and Your Kids.” Search “digital footprint” for the article on that subject.
“Social media for kids with special needs can be particularly empowering. It opens the door for kids to find someone who is like them. It gives them an opportunity to build camaraderie with others who understand them,” said Dr. Burgert. She warns, however, that those friendships should not translate to in-person meetings without supervision. It is common sense to adults, but kids may not realize the dangers of doing so.
She also warns that some social media platforms are full of subtlety and innuendo. It could be especially difficult for kids with social and emotional disorders to accurately interpret the meaning of emogees and shorthand. “This can even be hard to interpret for neurotypical kids, and even more so for those who struggle with social interaction. Being able to know what is a joke and what isn’t, what’s real news and what’s fantasy, is essential to successfully interacting on social media,” she says. “Facetime and video chatting may be better for these kids because of the facial recognition clues that it provides.”
Texting, online chatting, and social media platforms are a vital part of growing up. “Parents sometimes underestimate the good connectivity it provides. These can be great tools for children. But it comes with parent responsibility to monitor and manage,” she says. The following ideas are excerpted from Dr. Burgert’s posts.
Know the technology. Familiarize yourself with what’s out there, and get in the habit of using it yourself. Dr. Burgert recommends two web sites to get started. CommonSenseMedia.org, provides reviews, age ratings, and articles. Under the Family Guides section, there’s a specific page for Special Needs Apps. Among the resources there deal with communication, social interaction, organization, and motor skills. The other is CoolMomTech.com. It also includes reviews, plus it’s got practical tutorials. Want to know how turn off voice purchasing on the Amazon Echo or want to turn any book into an audio book? CoolMomTech.com has answers for that.
Know what your family owns and set limits. Don’t forget that online communities are not just on the computer. Limits, privacy settings, and appropriate use applies to all devices that can get on the web. These include cell phones, NintendoDS systems, Wii, XBox, PS3, iPads, iPods and other mp3 players, cameras, watches… you get the idea. Additional protective software such as Net-Nanny or PureSight, can help you control content.
No social media before age 13. It’s Federal Law. Many parents believe social media sites like FaceBook or Pinterest are suggested for children over 13 years based on the network’s content, like a PG-13 movie. However, this is NOT true. If you circumvent the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) by setting up an account using false date of birth, you aren’t protected by COPPA. There are other pre-teen social network options that allow this education, connection, and fun; but also provide legal protection. CommonSenseMedia.org provides a list. If your kids are on these sites, you need to like, follow and friend them.
Explain what’s ok and what’s not. Discuss what your kids should never post, including foul language, rude comments, private information, and illicit photos. Learn about other risks, such as GPS location tagging, hacking, piracy, cyberbullying, and sexting. Understand the importance of your child’s digital footprint. The internet is creating a permanent, digital footprint as we surf, download, and watch. Every time we log on, check out, upload or download, we are leaving a digital footprint. Always. Unfortunately, kids don’t have the capacity to understand the permanence and possible repercussions of this.
Stay involved. Ask questions about who they are interacting with, what apps they are using. Spot check what they are doing. Require that you be connected to anything their doing. Set up tools that allows you to receive every text message. If mom or dad is in the loop, kids are more likely to be careful about what they post.
Don’t freak out. Refrain from commenting on inappropriate content, but instead interpret for your kids what’s appropriate and what’s not. Keep lines of communication open so that if kids are faced with something that makes them uncomfortable, they will tell you. Help them block those people or that type of content. However, watch out for the cyberbully, and keep an eye open for warning signs that there’s a problem. Changes in sleep patterns, anger, depression, withdrawal from personal social interaction are all signs something is wrong.
“I love social media,” says Dr. Burgert. “The way kids engage with these spaces is revolutionary. It’s changing the way they get their education, the way they interact with peers, the way politics and other important social events are determined. It’s such a vital part of growing up. But parents have to be engaged and educated.”