It’s never too early for parents to start thinking about giving their children “the talk.” 

The social media talk that is. 

The Liberty Ridge Elementary parent-teacher association (PTA) and the Youth Service Bureau presented a presentation to families called “Log-On to Social Media” on Nov. 10. 

“Yes social media can be a scary place,” said Sarah Holmboe of the Youth Service Bureau, “but don’t blame technology, it’s not its fault.” 

The presentation discussed with parents when and how to start discussing social media with their children, no matter their age.

“It’s all going to happen, it’s coming our way,” said Andrea Backlund, a member of the Liberty Ridge PTA board. “We want the parents to be prepared before they need it.” 

What are kids doing online? 

One might think that talking to elementary-aged students about social media might be jumping the gun, but in reality a lot of fifth graders already have smartphones. 

Additionally, younger students might already have access to tablets. 

“If they don’t have one, one of their friends will probably have one,” Holmboe said.

There are a lot of applications available today that students are using such as Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube and Vine to name just a few. 

“Facebook’s not cool anymore because the adults are on it,” Holmboe said. 

The influx in the use of social media, and texting, can bring with it some negative side effects, Holmboe said, in terms of social development and emotional health. 

In terms of social development, Holmboe said children today are struggling to develop strong  communication and social skills, outside of social media. 

In terms of emotional health, Holmboe said social media gives children a false sense of popularity, or lack of popularity, based on how many likes they have or how many followers they have. 

“It gives a sense of validation and if they’re not getting that,” she said, “it can be really damaging to their self esteem.” 

Additionally, children can repeatedly have their feelings hurt when they are bombarded my images and comments from friends spending time without them, Holmboe said. 

The best advice for navigating social media, Holmboe said, is self-regulation, but that’s easier said than done when it comes to adolescents. 

“It’s hard for kids to say no because they’re constantly getting bombarded ,” she said. 

That’s why it’s up to parents to help their children  use social media. 

“It’s up to the parents to provide the tools to help their children through this technological world,” PTA president Mike Mensing said. “But I think there’s a lot of parents out there who will give their children a phone and they don’t really know the full risk of it.

“I hope parents open their eyes a little wider to what’s actually out there.”

What parents can do

The first thing parents need to be doing, Holmboe said, is to be talking with their children about values so that they are able to think critically and make good decisions. 

Additionally, Holmboe said, families should discuss with their children some of the safety basics of social media and being online such as: being kind; keeping private things private; don’t believe everything you see; and don’t overshare. 

The next step will be to discuss as a family what expectations, and limitations, to set in terms of social media and device use, Holmboe said. 

A helpful tool might be to have a family device contract, and if children violate the contract it’s important to follow through with consequences, Holmboe said. 

For parents who are giving children a phone for the first time, an option might be to contact the service provider and turn off certain features. 

“You can dumb your phone down,” Holmboe said. 

For the parents who decide to let their children have access to various apps, a few tips to keeping children safe is to turn off location services and to conduct periodic “checkups.” 

There is a limit to how often to monitor a child’s social media activity, though. 

“I don’t want to be that crazy parent lurking all the time,” Holmboe said. “When you were a kid, how did your parents monitor you? Were they on the other line listening in on your phone calls? Did they read every single note you brought home?

“If you’re constantly checking, that might send them the message that you don’t trust them.” 

Another important thing for parents to consider, Holmboe said, is to try an encourage their children to put down their phones, or put down their electronics, in favor of going out with friends, playing sports or engaging in other interests. 

Even though social media can be a scary place for parents, Holmboe said, it doesn’t need to be as long as parent have an open conversation with their children. 

“There’s a lot of dangers out there in the world and the same can be said for online,” she said, “and that’s why we have to teach them how to be safe with those things. 

“Social media isn’t inherently good or bad, it’s powerful; and as parents it’s our job to teach kids how to harvest that power and use it for good, not evil.” 

Visit for more information on social media, including a social media resource guide for parents.

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