With the school year back in full swing, it's a great time to revisit a topic that affects students, parents and teachers equally: social media.
While social media use continues to grow and becomes increasingly common place, it is nonetheless an area of contention, particularly when it comes to kids -- both in and outside of the classroom.
To completely discourage use is not only unfeasible, it is also shortsighted. Social media will only become more prominent in the foreseeable future, and knowing the ins-and-outs of certain platforms to some degree is undoubtedly an essential skill for most future careers. On the other hand, using social media irresponsibly or without truly understanding how information is being used or shared can result in serious repercussions. We need to remember that social media is not inherently good or bad; rather, the way the technology is used is what differentiates positive from negative experiences.
To help ensure that you, your students or your children gain the former, it's important to educate yourself on social media with the following tips for using the technology in a responsible way:
Tips for Kids
Watch What You Download - There are many exciting new apps that pop up for download every day. While it's tempting to get the latest ones -- especially when your friends are using them -- it's a good idea to start reading privacy policies before downloading anything. They will tell you what each app will do with your information when you use it.
Turn Off Location Functions - Most smartphones have a GPS signature letting viewers access the location and time of any photos you take. Before taking or posting a photo, make sure to disable this feature to prevent giving that information away.
Look Before You Post - Before you post a photo, make sure there is no private information or identifying location features in the background. These can include addressed envelopes, prescriptions, notebooks with school names, street signs, house numbers, information on computer screens and more.
Know Who You're Talking To - People can create false identities over social media, and smartphones get stolen all the time. Before meeting up with somebody through arrangements made by text or email, confirm who you think it is either through a phone call or video calling like FaceTime or Skype.
Tips for Parents
Set Ground Rules - If your child is relatively young, but is using social media, create an understanding that you will have access to their passwords or will be able to see what they are posting. At the very least, you should establish a set of rules so that they understand what types of things they should/should not be sharing.
Talk About Cyber-Bullying - Have a frank discussion with your kids about what constitutes cyberbullying, and review any available information or school policies together. Cyberbullying can potentially result in legal repercussions, not just punishment administered by the school. Equipping kids with the knowledge they need about cyberbullying can help them avoid trouble and identify when they need to seek help from an adult.
Keep it Private - Don't include highly personal details about your kids in your own social media accounts; you can't be certain your networks won't share or disclose that information. You have no control over the privacy settings of others. Anything you wouldn't want circulated about your family shouldn't be shared.
A Lifetime Digital Dossier - Be aware that when you share your kids' photos or life details, you are creating a digital dossier of information that can be recorded and follow them throughout their lives. They are not making the decision to post such information: you are. What you post now can affect them in the future, so be cautious with what you share and with whom.
Tips for Teachers
Lock Classroom Accounts - Social media can actually be a viable pedagogical tool. However, if you choose to leverage social media in the classroom, make sure that any Twitter or Facebook accounts or groups are representative of your current class only.
Encourage Communication with Parents - Work with your school and parents on social media policies, particularly if they require creation or updating. Everyone should have a clear understanding of acceptable practices as they pertain to student use, safety and privacy.
Keep Your Personal Social Media Use in Mind - Your use of social media on your personal time can have very real effects on your professional life. Be wary of your social media conduct, even on your personal profiles.
Set Boundaries - If you are using social media to interact with students, be sure that you adhere to any established policies. Ensure that boundaries are clear and conduct is professional and for educational purposes only.
When social media intersects with the school system -- as it increasingly does -- it is important that everybody involved is educated on what is and what is not appropriate. It's not only students that need to be aware of the rules -- teachers, school staff and parents must also remain informed. By establishing clear social media policies and exercising the proper discretion, students, parents and teachers alike can ensure that social media is being used responsibly both in and outside of our schools.
Jeff Quipp is an expert on digital marketing. He is the founder and CEO of Search Engine People Inc. (SEP), Canada's largest digital marketing firm, which has been on the PROFIT 100 ranking of Canada's Fastest Growing Companies for the past five consecutive years and named one of PROFIT Magazine's 50 Fastest Growing Companies in the Greater Toronto Area. You can follow Jeff on Twitter and connect with him on Google+.
ALSO ON HUFFPOST: