When it comes to academic exploration, the internet is a treasure trove of much needed information and stimulation for gifted and twice-exceptional (2e) children. Many parents are willing to let their children explore educational websites or take online courses to develop their talents. However, when it comes to social media, families tend to be much quicker to point out the damaging affects of the digital age. It is understandable that this polarization exists when the information out there is just as conflicting. The research on the effects of social media and children of all ages is relatively new, so while we wait for the experts to sort through the data, parents know that social media is just a fact of life for our children. So, the question then becomes, how do we teach our children to navigate social media safely?
For gifted and 2e kids, social media might present a refuge from school where they can interact with other students like them. It can also be a self-soothing tool when they’re feeling anxious and even boost their social skills. Social media isn’t inherently bad in these circumstances. Issues can arise, however, most notably when social media use interferes with sleep, exposes your child to age-inappropriate material, or becomes a source of bullying. These dangers exist with or without social media, but the wide reach of the internet and its prevalence does mean that there are more chances you might be met with these issues.
If your child goes onto a school yard or participates in a summer camp, they are likely scanning the crowd to get a sense of where they fit in. It is not usually the case that they will walk right up to the school bully and want to become close friends or try to fit in with others who don’t share any of their interests. Just as you would want in any in-person environment, it is important to teach your child to navigate online communities to find the ones that are safe and most aligned with their interests and values. The following tips are meant to help children and parents evaluate their social media options.
Websites with User Verification Preferred
Look for platforms or apps that use some kind of verification step to make sure people are who they say they are. Some apps require users to tie their accounts to their Facebook profile or verify membership if it is tied to a particular organization or club. Kids and adults may be tempted to lie about who they are online, and it is important to talk to your child about this and look for social media options that can reduce the likelihood of this happening. In addition, parents might want to be weary of platforms that require a minimum age like Discord. Younger gifted and 2e kids in particular might be tempted to register for these platforms if they are looking for intellectual peers rather than age-mates, but these minimum age requirements are often in place to protect children, and while they may be intellectually mature, 13+ forums may also be discussing topics for which your child is not yet emotionally prepared.
Keep Your Personal Info to Yourself
When chatting with other users in a forum or app, never give out personal information. Personal information such as their phone number, location, and account passwords should remain private in order to protect your child’s identity. For younger children, it might make sense to create accounts for them so that you can control their passwords and monitor their activity. Let them know you will be checking in on them. Talk with your children about identity theft and other reasons this information is not appropriate to share. Ask that your children talk to you first if someone in their online community is asking for this information.
Don’t Get Too Personal Too Fast
In a similar vein to the above tip, teach your child to be cautious about over-divulging personal details about their life, such as their biggest fears and secrets. Some of what attracts gifted students, and really most students, to social media is a sense of belonging. However, sharing long confessional-style posts may not feel as liberating as your child thought if the audience isn’t receptive, is rude, or has malicious intentions. Social groups are built on shared values and trust, and these connections don’t form overnight. Start with basic information like favorite bands or video games. Do others in the group put the same amount of energy into the conversation, are they answering the same questions or offering their own? Look for signs that your online friend is also interested in investing in the friendship before sharing more. If your friend is asking questions that are too personal, it could be a sign that some boundaries need to be drawn. Parents should always help their kids understand how to set healthy boundaries for themselves online and offline.
Keep the Lines of Communication Open
Let your children know they can talk to you about upsetting and hurtful things that happen or are said to them online without fear of retaliation. Children may not be willing to share what happens online out of fear that they will be blamed or their internet privileges will be taken away. Let them know that it is not their fault. Especially in an instance of cyberbullying, it is important to remain calm and find a solution that doesn’t feel like a punishment for the child. According to an interview with psychologist Elizabeth Englander Ph.D., one negative interaction is unlikely to ruin the many positive interactions that the child had on that particular app. Therefore, the solution to an upsetting online event may not be to delete the app entirely. Communicate with your child about how to move forward from a negative experience.
Gifted and 2e children may want social media outlets to meet their social needs just as much as they may want to take online college classes that meet their intellectual needs. And just like students are now taught to evaluate online articles and research for intent, teaching our children how to evaluate their online communities will help them become better digital citizens. While there is a lot of understandable apprehension around social media use, the good news is that, despite the myths, gifted children are often socially and emotionally resilient.
See also: Gifted Students and Screen Time