Talking Points: Making friends online
Many children use the internet to widen their circle of friends. Use these talking points to discuss some important issues around making friends online.
1. What is the difference between real friends and online friends?
Talk with your child about the difference between real friends and friends on social networks. Young people who find it difficult to make friends sometimes have a tendency to make strong connections with anyone who shows them meaningful attention. This can lead to sharing too much personal information too soon. Help your child reflect on the difference between a social-media friend and a friend who really values them. Encourage your child to regularly review their friends lists, ask your child if they really know everyone in their friends and followers lists?
2. What would you do if you receive a friend request/follow from someone you don’t know?
Talk to your child about accepting friend requests from people they don’t know and the potential risks involved. Make an agreement with your child about putting in place privacy settings on their social networks that are appropriate for them. It’s a good idea to keep accounts set to ‘friends only’, especially when they are starting off. They can also configure their profiles so that ‘randomers’ or online acquaintances have limited access to what they post online.
3. Have you ever had a row with someone online?
Let your child know that if they get involved in a situation that makes them feel uncomfortable, they can block and report the other user. You should also reassure them that they can come to you if they experience anything that bothers them. Even good friends clash from time to time, but most disputes are short-lived and the friendship resumes after a while. Talk to your child about knowing when to take a break from an argument to cool off. On social media conflict can quickly escalate, there are times when the best thing to do is to say, “I think we should leave this now and talk about it tomorrow when we are less upset.”
4. Do you know anyone who has met up with someone they met online?
What we think of as meeting strangers, children can think of as making friends. Try to understand that the internet can be a positive meeting place for children, where they can get to know other young people and make new friends. However, for safety reasons, and to avoid unpleasant experiences, it is important that children do not meet strangers they have met online without being accompanied by an adult they trust. In any case, they should always have your approval first. It is also a good idea to have a fail-safe plan in place such as calling them shortly after the meeting begins so that they can bail out if they feel uncomfortable.
5. Have you listened to any good music lately?
Being able to hold a conversation and make small talk is an important skill. It is something that doesn’t come easily to many young people. They may avoid uncomfortable social situations by engrossing themselves in online communication and not engaging with those around them. Conversing is a skill that we need to learn. The more we do it the better we get at it. Make a point of having casual chats about topics such as music, activities outside of school, or homework. Help them learn how to keep it positive, and promote the value of listening more than they speak.
For more advice go to: webwise.ie/social-media-advice