famil using tablet.jpgI think every kid should know how to swim. It’s one of those crucial life skills that must be in everyone’s arsenal. That’s why my husband and I introduced our kids to water at the earliest possible opportunity. First in the bath and the shower (okay, so maybe these are more about hygiene), and then we graduated to sprinklers and inflatable pools, wading pools, beaches and lakes. As soon as the kids were old enough we signed them up for swimming lessons.

Our kids learned that water is fun, but also dangerous, and we told them they had to be careful around water. Drowning is a harsh reality, so we drilled water safety into them early on.

I think our approach to social media should be the same as it is for swimming. Shouldn’t we teach our kids about the joys and the perils of it, instead of just tossing them in and hoping they can keep their heads up above water – swim, not sink?

My kids are 13 and 15, and they spent their formative childhood years without video games, iPods, FaceTime, iPads and PVRs. We had lots of books, board games, a record player, and regular cable. I can’t imagine what it’s like growing up digital, but I recognize that social media for kids today is what the telephone was for me when I was a kid. It’s a way to communicate, to connect, to belong to a tribe – and this is important.

socialmedia blocks.jpgBut the technology we use today has elevated everything, created new concerns.  Bullying, copyright, privacy: these are issues that we’re talking about openly around the dinner table on a regular basis. What’s right? What’s wrong? Sometimes the answers aren’t clear, but we keep talking.

One of our regular social media-related conversations is about “likes.” As a parent, this has been a very challenging issue, and one that has been very difficult to resolve.

As many of you probably already know when you use social media your audience can tell you, in one click, whether they “like” something (in the language of Facebook), “heart” it on Instagram, or give it a "thumbs up" on YouTube. Unfortunately, many kids who are growing up with these social media tools use the number of “likes” their content generates to measure their self-worth. It’s very hard not to fall into this trap, and doubly hard to tell kids to ignore the number of likes that their content is generating.

We do our best, as parents, to remind our kids that it’s not important what other people think about their posts. What’s important is that they themselves like it and are comfortable in their own skin. (This, of course, is easier said than done.)

The world of social media is a big one to just jump into. This is why I really like the idea of creating a family social media account for kids who are old enough to know about social media and under the age of 13, which is the age minimum set out by Facebook and Instagram. Kids who are 10 or 11 are the perfect age for a family social media account, and tend to be the most receptive to the idea.

Setting up a family account gives kids a gentle immersion into the world of social media. It’s an opportunity for kids and parents to review and learn about big issues such as privacy and bullying, but it also gives families a cool project to work on together, sometimes with really creative results. (And as an added benefit, kids, who are often so quick to adapt to new technologies, can teach mom and dad, or grandma and grandpa, about them too!)

So which social media sites can a family join together? Here are a few of my suggestions:

1.   Family Instagram accounts
Our dog Piper has her own Instagram account, but since she doesn’t have opposable thumbs it’s controlled entirely by the human members of her family. It’s been really fun, and we all contribute to this ongoing project. The reason I like Instagram for families is that it gives my kids the opportunity to be really creative using both words and photos.
Want to learn more about Instagram? Check out MediaSmarts' Parent Guide.


2.   Family Facebook accounts
Just as you can have a personal profile on Facebook, you can also start a family account. This is a great solution for young tweens who are chomping at the bit and can’t wait to get their feet wet. Signing up is the easy part - the hard part is establishing the rules of use. The Think Before You Share Tips created by MediaSmarts and Facebook can help you figure some of that stuff out.
3.   Family YouTube accounts
Teaching kids how to shoot and edit video is fun on its own, and the experience can give kids special insight into how visual media is made. This will fuel conversations when you watch movies and television shows together. And who knows, maybe you’re launching the career of the next Steven Spielberg! For more parent tips on Youtube, check out my blog post on this topic.

Family social media accounts are a great way of teaching our kids good media literacy skills. Talking about how to navigate the social media waters early will give you and your kids a chance to talk about and understand the importance of privacy, copyright issues, appropriate sharing and all the other things that will make your child a good “netizen”.  What’s not to like, heart, or thumbs up about that?

Andrea Tomkins 75.jpg

Andrea Tomkins is a parent blogger with MediaSmarts. She is the mother of two, and can be found on Twitter @missfish. She has written this blog post in support of Media Literacy Week which runs from November 3-7. This year's theme is "Youth & Social Networking: Creative, Connected, and Collaborative”.