How to Help Students be Safe on Social Media Apps so They Someday
Shine Online

By Josh Ochs
S

tudents today are beyond comfortable picking up any smartphone or logging into a new social media platform to connect with people they know, and people they do not know. Educators and parents alike question that level of comfort and the dangers that are present in these often-uncontrolled environments that encapsulate students’ lives at all ages.

Student using his phone
Student with a mask on looking at his phone

My passion for the last eight years has been helping educators, parents, and students be safe online while creating a positive online persona using social media apps and technology with a purpose. When students think about social media as more of a personal branding tool and not just a place to post silly photos or vie for attention from any follower, they connect their life’s passions and goals to create a positive purpose for their time spent online.

The dangers of online predators and sexual exploitation for our students today are around every corner of any social media app or site. Any user, including adults, can have a hard time distinguishing between a harmless friend and someone who does not have the student’s best interest in mind. With peer pressure expanding beyond school walls, and the addictive activity of “just checking” social media every few minutes around the clock, pressures on mental health are ever-increasing. Every adult in a student’s life must be involved in helping students learn good habits, to recognize signs of addiction or problems with students’ habits, and to help students learn from mistakes to avoid extreme consequences in the future.

Student with a mask on looking at his phone

It is hard enough for adults with mature brains to not get addicted to these devices and apps. It is even harder for an adolescent mind to understand truly why social media and smartphones are so addictive. This younger audience does not have a toolset or vocabulary to understand how these apps/devices can affect us in such a negative way.

At SmartSocial.com, we refer to anyone under 18 as a student, instead of calling them a kid. This helps them focus on how to use these tools with a positive purpose, instead of a pastime. We treat them like young adults, to show them these tools will help them get hired and fired from their future career, college, internship, etc.

Always learning

We tell adults to not say, “I’m not tech savvy,” but instead change the phrase to “I’m learning TikTok” (for example). This helps adults to show interest in their student’s activities, puts them in a positive mindset, turns the student into the expert to teach the adult, and opens an opportunity for dialogue.

Even with parental settings or monitoring apps, there is no fool-proof technology to distinguish and block content online for the innocence of a child’s mind. Only real-life, in-person coaching and mentoring with a trusted adult will teach our students and allow them to explore their technology-driven inquisitive minds with safety.

We all can justify the use of technology and smartphones in our lives. Teens and tweens have their own justifications that adults may not understand or think of, without understanding the apps from their perspective.

Many teens think certain apps are safe because their messages are not permanent and disappear. Consider showing students their Google results and connecting the dots to let them know anything they post on Snapchat, TikTok, or Instagram can negatively affect their permanent search results. They will better understand WHY and HOW everything online is permanent, regardless of how the app functions. We often hear students say it is just fun, but then we also hear how quickly the “fun” escalates into hurt feelings and lifelong consequences, both online and in-person.

Illustration of people communicating through technology
Stranger danger

Access to strangers is one of the biggest dangers social media and smartphones create for our students. Many apps and sites do not have age-verification processes, so anyone can say they are a teenager in their profile. Students and parents are quick to say, “It won’t happen to me,” but may not fully realize the dangers of what predators want from them, or how strangers could cause lifelong damage to their mental or physical health or professional reputation, that can follow them for a lifetime. Seeing and hearing the news stories about online predators and teens can help reinforce the “real-life” implications others have faced. Also, having positive peer support can help students avoid taking risks of meeting strangers and establish personal boundaries.

Illustration of social media likes

So, what can adults do to help students create a positive mindset about their brand online? Here are the basic steps we teach at SmartSocial.com:

  1. Teach parents and students to be proactive by Googling themselves regularly. When looking at the results that include any mention of their name on social media, students must ask themselves how their future employer or school admissions officer would think about those results. Even if the results are about a person with the same name, bad Google results can damage a student’s opportunities in the future.
  2. At every age, encourage students to think about what makes them unique, as well as their goals for the future. As part of their overall growth and self-development, they can use social media to grow and develop their strengths and reputation around their personal message and passion projects. Any time a teen applies to a college or job opportunity, they should ask themselves if their Google results will help them stand out to the admissions officer or human resources staff looking at their application.
  3. Help students practice a mindset that everything they post on social media should be Light, Bright & PoliteTM. Students must ask themselves:

Is what I am posting LIGHT? Is it positive? Is it fun?

Is what I am about to post BRIGHT? Is it smart, or will it destroy future opportunities?

Is it POLITE? Will the student be proud of it changing their Google results for the next five years for all to see?

If the answer to all these questions is yes, then they know it is Light, Bright & PoliteTM and passes the test to post.

  1. In high school, dialog with your students about creating their own positive Google results using public social media accounts and an online portfolio/website. Everyone has an online footprint today, and we can create a positive reputation others will discover. Helping students create a positive purpose for their time online vs. a pure entertainment or social purpose can motivate students to focus on their future career, while still having fun on social media.

We believe avoiding social media is not the answer to today’s dangers. Students want to be online, and with the right learning opportunities, they can develop lifelong habits for a positive mindset to shine online.

Learn about the 100+ most popular apps, to discover what students are doing on social media at SmartSocial.com. Perfect for parents, educators, and caregivers.

About the author

Josh Ochs is the author of six books that teach people how to shine online and his SmartSocial.com programs help schools and parents to keep students safe and smart on social media.

With a background in marketing at Disney, and a love for all things technology, Josh Ochs combines both to help students use social media as a portfolio of positive accomplishments. Josh presents to over 30,000 students around the nation each year, sharing with them tips they can use to create a positive online presence. Josh’s book: “Light, Bright and Polite” teaches students of all ages that everything they post on social media will eventually be discovered by their parents, educators, and someday colleges and employers. He shows families and students examples they can use to post with positivity and gratitude so they Shine Online.

Learn more at SmartSocial.com.