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IOWA Magazine | June 2020

How Can You Manage Your Kids' Social Media Use?

Meghann Foster and Nick Westergaard, parents and University of Iowa social media experts, share tips to help families decide whether their children are ready for online accounts.
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From Facebook and Instagram to Snapchat and TikTok, the social media landscape is changing rapidly. While it can be hard to keep up with the latest apps, it's even more difficult when your kids are pressuring you to let them join.

Meghann Foster and Nick Westergaard PHOTOS COURTESY NICK WESTERGAARD Meghann Foster and Nick Westergaard

"As parents we hear this all the time," says Meghann Foster (00BA), a lecturer at the UI School of Journalism and Mass Communication, where she teaches social media marketing. Foster is also a content strategist at Brand Driven Digital.

Her business partner and husband, Nick Westergaard (01BA), teaches communication and social media marketing at the Henry B. Tippie College of Business. Together the couple have five kids. "It's a conversation you have to have," adds Westergaard, the author of Get Scrappy: Smarter Digital Marketing for Businesses Big and Small. "If not, you and your kids are likely to run into trouble down the road."

Here are five tips from Foster and Westergaard to help you and your family make appropriate decisions on your kids' social media use:

  1. First, do your homework. Do you know what TikTok is? What about Snapchat? Do you know the difference between them? You may not be interested personally, but you should have at least a general idea on how these networks work to know what's best for your kids and at what age.
  2. Know the rules. Different social networks have different rules for opening accounts. While the minimum age to open an account on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, TikTok, and Snapchat is 13, many kids join with or without their parents' permission. Our take? These restrictions are there for a reason. Plus, teaching kids to ignore the rules isn't a great precedent to set.
  3. Start with a conversation. To keep your kids from joining social media without your knowledge, have a conversation about it first. Listen for what it is they're trying to do. Often, it's as simple as connecting with their friends. If you have concerns, share them, but don't go out of your way to scare them.
  4. Don't cave to peer pressure. "But all of my friends are on it!" We hear this a lot from kids about social media. They shouldn't cave to peer pressure, and neither should you. If it's a good fit, great—let them use it. If not, then use this as an opportunity to educate them about online safety.
  5. Set up accounts and monitor together. If a social network makes sense, set up your child's profile together. This provides you with an opportunity to learn about the site if you're unfamiliar. It also allows you to teach important concepts such as privacy settings and blocking and reporting inappropriate content. Start with social training wheels like keeping your child's account private on networks like Instagram and approving new followers together. And, once again, keep those lines of communication open. In other words—stay social.
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