HOUSTON – (Aug. 13, 2012) – As parents are checking items off school supply lists and preparing their children for the upcoming school year, they should take the opportunity to talk about a relatively new back-to-school issue – digital identity. According to an adolescent health expert with Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital, parenting in the digital world should fall in line with parenting skills used in the real world. “When you prepare your children for the beginning of school, you’ve been saying ‘be respectful’, ‘be kind,’ ‘think before you speak’ – these same rules apply online,” said Dr. Amy Acosta, assistant professor of pediatrics – psychology at BCM. According to Acosta, adolescents face similar challenges online as they do in school hallways, and it’s important for parents to have a discussion with children about behavior and identity when it comes to texting and social media activity, and how those reflect the family values they are taught at home. “Just like you talk about values with your child – what is your reputation? How are you representing yourself when you are out there in the hallways and in the classroom and on the soccer field? – that’s the same conversation you have when you’re talking about social media and texting,” said Acosta.
Consider an online identity as creating a brand for yourself, she said. Research has shown that youth gain reputation management skills online, including what information they should include online and how it affects their name. It is important for adolescents to develop reputation management skills online, because they should be good critical thinkers on their own by the time they are in college. “Talk to them about the image they are putting out about themselves online and through text messaging, ensuring that image the same as the one they present to their teachers, coaches and friends. If it’s drastically different, there may be a problem,” said Acosta.
When making the decision about allowing your child to participate in social media, Acosta suggests first looking at the age limits provided by the site, as well as the type of privacy settings the site allows. Another important indicator of whether your child is ready for social media is whether they are at risk for depression and anxiety online. “If your child is at risk in person, they may be at risk online,” said Acosta.
Keeping an ongoing conversation about social media is key to helping your child maintain a healthy online identity. Just as you would keep open, ongoing dialogue about the rules of the house, you should consider having a similar conversation about the rules of social media and texting. “Adolescents can feel empowered when you collaborate with them,” said Acosta. Transparency is often a difficult but important part of the conversation on social media and texting. “If you’re honest with your children and tell them why a rule, such as having their password, is important, it creates a collaborative environment,” said Acosta.
Although it can be difficult to communicate the permanence of online activity, it’s still an important point for parents to emphasize. It’s important to remind children that anything can potentially be saved online or through text messaging. It’s still possible for them to socialize and be appropriate within the guidelines. When it comes to making comments on social media and texting, talk to children and adolescents about how those comments can be interpreted. “One way to approach this is to ask children to think of examples of when they’ve seen jokes or comments interpreted the wrong way online, and what the consequences were,” said Acosta.
Acosta also reminds parents that unplugging should be an important part of their child’s daily routine. Children’s minds can’t be in two places at once, so it’s important for them to unplug from social media and texting while doing school work. “There should be an uninterrupted time of learning,” said Acosta.
There are many ways that social media and texting can be used in positive ways, including learning, developing communication skills, mining data for good information, and connecting with friends and family. Acosta says children may take some missteps, this is normal. However ongoing conversations about a digital identity between parents and children will provide a forum to talk through challenges children may face online. “We need to apply what we know about social skills and awareness to online social media behavior. In many cases, children are developing those skills online on their own, as parents may feel unsure about how to approach the topic. However, it would be ideal if they were developing online skills with the assistance of trusted adults who can help children cope with difficult situations they may encounter online or via text messaging, so start the conversation today,” said Acosta.
About Texas Children's HospitalTexas Children’s Hospital, a not-for-profit organization, is
committed to creating a community of healthy children through excellence in
patient care, education and research. Consistently ranked among the top
children’s hospitals in the nation, Texas Children’s has recognized Centers of
Excellence in multiple pediatric subspecialties including the Cancer and Heart
Centers, and operates the largest primary pediatric care network in the
country. Texas Children's has completed a $1.5 billion expansion, which
includes the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute; Texas
Children’s Pavilion for Women, a comprehensive obstetrics/gynecology facility
focusing on high-risk births; and Texas Children’s Hospital West Campus, a
community hospital in suburban West Houston. For more information on
Texas Children's, go to www.texaschildrens.org.
Get the latest news from Texas Children’s by visiting the online newsroom and on
Twitter at twitter.com/texaschildrens.
Veronika Javor RomeisPublic Relations Specialist832email@example.com
Join the conversation