Lessons for parents about the risks their children face on social media

Students of all ages are getting into trouble with social media — at school and with the law. It’s media that’s meant to be fast. But what students fail to realize is that a quick post or response can have lasting consequences.

“Today, students as young as 10 years old have smartphones, which gives them access to different messaging services that use a variety of media to make public posts. It’s important that parents recognize and understand the risks this brings,” says Kristina W. Supler, a Principal at McCarthy, Lebit, Crystal & Liffman Co., LPA.

“A student’s improper use of social media can put their educational futures in jeopardy, costing them scholarships and in some cases eliminating them from enrollment consideration as college acceptance becomes more competitive,” says Susan C. Stone, a Principal at McCarthy, Lebit, Crystal & Liffman Co., LPA.

Smart Business spoke with Supler and Stone about the risks students face when using social media, and what parents can do to mitigate those risks.

How might social media misuse put the account holder at risk?
Every school, private and public, has policies that govern the use of students’ social media use. A violation of those policies could get a student suspended or expelled.

Students also face legal consequences. There have been cases of a student’s social media posts leading to charges for inducing panic. In some cases, parents could be liable for as much as $10,000 in penalties if their child’s acts are determined to be malicious and willful.

If a student is found guilty by a Juvenile Court of a first degree misdemeanor, it puts a conviction on record that would need to be disclosed on their college application. That could be life changing for some as colleges tighten enrolment standards and scholarship dollars become scarcer.

What are some of the more serious mistakes students are making through social media?
Students have gotten in trouble for taking naked pictures of themselves and sending them to other students, which could implicate them in child porn laws.

Some have sent photos of themselves with toy guns that get viewed by school officials who worry it’s a threat to public safety, which can bring a charge of inducing panic and lead to the student’s expulsion. And using racist slurs or bragging about sexual exploits will most likely violate their school’s policies on harassment.

In one case, a person posted that there was going to be a bomb set off at school. A student liked the post and was suspended. That act only took a second, but it had serious long-term repercussions.

What are some of the threats students face online and through social media?
Most of what a student does on social media is public. This opens students up to bullying from others, or worse, they become prey for adults who pose as children. Parents should talk about this threat with their children and the importance of being mindful of what they post. They should never say where they are, who they’re with or where they’re going. If a stranger asks to chat privately with your child on another platform, that’s a red flag.

What can parents do to mitigate the risks associated with social media?
There’s no such thing as privacy online. Just because an account is set to private doesn’t mean they can control who looks at its contents. Further, anything posted through social media can live forever. Even if the author removes a post someone could have a screenshot of it.

It’s difficult to keep up with the ways children use social media. There’s always new technology, a new way to speak to each other. Parents can insist on being linked to their child’s accounts as a follower or friend, but they can’t be sure their children don’t have two accounts — one that they can see and another they’re unaware of.

Ideally, parents would know what sites their children visit, possibly block certain sites from being accessed in the house, and keep their account passcodes on hand so they can access and view their activity anytime.
Ultimately, the lesson to students should be: If you wouldn’t show it to your grandmother, don’t post it on the internet.

Insights Legal Affairs is brought to you by McCarthy, Lebit, Crystal & Liffman Co., LPA