Long before I got my driver’s license, my parents taught me about driving. Before pulling out in front of someone they’d say, “You can’t always trust that a blinker means someone is really going to turn.” When crossing traffic, they’d point out places I needed to focus. On the highway, they’d extol the merits of only passing in the left lane instead of the right. What’s interesting is that my education started years before I would ever sit behind the wheel. Why did they teach me in advance? Because it’d be dumb to never teach me about using a car and simply hand me a pair of keys upon my sixteenth birthday. The less I knew about driving, the more likely I was to get in a crash.

As obvious as that is, it’s amazing how easy it is for us parents to treat social media that way. Instead of teaching our kids about the benefits and dangers of social media before they use it, one day we just give them a Facebook page. “Here, this is the entire Internet. A wondrous world populated with great beauty and great danger. Good luck!” Having turned over the keys, we walk away, surprised later that they wrecked the car. Like driving, the best time to teach a kid about social media is before they use it. What does that look like from a practical sense? Here are a few examples:

  1. When you Google something for them, like say the name of the American Girl Doll of the Year, teach them about how fun Google is, but that they’ll need to be careful about the words they use to search someday.
  2. When you show them a funny cat video on YouTube, teach them how if they someday post their own videos, the people who post comments on YouTube might not say the nicest things.
  3. When you Instagram a picture, tell them the number of likes you get doesn’t determine the value of the photo. The photo had value before it was even shared.

Each time you use social media around your kids there’s a chance to say, “This part is great and this part is challenging.” The little advice you give can really add up over time. The more you teach them now, the easier it will be for them to avoid a wreck in the future.

P.S. If you’ve got a fifteen-year-old and have never talked with him about social media, you might be thinking it’s too late to start. It’s not. The best time to talk to a kid about social media is right now. It’s never too late.