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As technology advances and integrates into our lives, it is important for parents to not just focus on all of the negative undertones, but how they can teach their kids to be good online citizens. Remember—social media represents a new form of communication and has provided an easier way to become more involved in the lives of family members and friends.

Youth should be encouraged to use the Internet as a tool that can benefit their lives, rather than kept off-limits.  Here are three tips for parents when it comes to approaching their kids and social media:

Monitor the use, don’t forbid it.

On average, teens spend 80 percent of their time on social networking websites, proving that it has become a convenient and primary form of communication.  You might be worried with the amount of time spent online, but also remember that kids use the Internet for a variety of activities – homework, communicating with friends and family, and playing games. Restricting all online social interaction usually leads to rebellion; so monitor it instead. For younger kids, limit the amount of time spent, types of websites they can visit and check in on their social media activity. For older kids and teens, develop an open dialogue about their online behavior and be aware of what networking sites they use.

Educate them on safe social media use.

Have an open discussion with your kids! Talk to them about how the Internet works and point out the many reporting and blocking tools that are available on most social media outlets.  Immediately reporting any negative social media activity to you, a teacher, or friend is the most important message you could relay to your kids.  Let them know if they face cyberbullying, inappropriate contact or a stranger asking for personal information, they should feel comfortable telling someone they trust right away – with the confidence that you will not be angry with them.

Ensure they utilize social network privacy settings.

It is important for youth and parents to understand how social networks can be personalized, privatized and intertwined to become a connected community hosted online.  You don’t need to know the ins and outs of a social network, but you should be aware of the types of social networks your kids are using.

Parents need to be encouraging the “why,” and not the “how.” While you show your kids how to privatize the profiles, talk to them about the risks associated with posting personal, private information online. Once they understand all the risks, they’ll be much more willing to make use of their privacy settings and keep them updated on their own.

Online social interaction has become increasingly vital to the lives of youth because they’ve begun to use social media as a research tool, homework aid, and means to chat with friends and family.  It will only become more prevalent, so open the social media conversation with your kids – and discover together the positive things social media has to offer!