I panicked as I read an article about new social media apps because I was familiar with only one of them! How can I protect my children if I can’t keep track of the apps they use online? Once I calmed down, the answer was clear: I do not need to know about every new app and social media site to protect my family. By following general rules, using common sense and teaching my family to do the same, we’ll all be fine.
So where to begin? Reading articles such as this one provide education. Next, exchanging experiences and issues via conversations with children, their friends and other parents is helpful and can prevent the same mistakes from being repeated.
There is tons to talk about so to be effective and not overwhelming, conversation length and variety of topics should be limited, especially with younger children. Below are 7 topic suggestions:
1. Avoid Sharing Personal Information
Personal information includes full name, home address, birthday, school, schedule, financial information etc. Steer away from sharing private information to protect online reputations and to avoid personal and financial identity theft, stalkers, bullies and sexual or violent predators.
Discuss types of personal information that can be dangerous to post and the reasons why. Ask children for their opinions and compliment them when they are insightful. Include teenagers and older kids since many don’t realize how a small amount of information can cause great harm.
Emphasize how responsibility extends beyond self protection – personal information of family members and friends should not be shared either.
2. Verify Privacy Settings periodically to make sure they haven’t changed
Apps and social media sites have privacy settings that should be checked when they are used for the first time and periodically thereafter. (Facebook makes code changes every single Tuesday) Teach younger kids to keep their accounts private and to only allow people they know to follow them or friend them and vice versa.
Tumblr is a public platform so individual posts should be locked and kids should avoid using full name, address and phone numbers. Photos of themselves, their friends or their homes should not be posted either.
3. Be caring citizens who pay attention to troubles of others
Senseless teenage suicides could have been prevented if kids that were aware of cyber bullying had come forward to notify an adult immediately.
Remind kids to be kind, to comment appropriately and to recognize it’s not okay to ignore serious matters concerning others online. If kids get in trouble or notice someone else in trouble online, they should seek assistance from a trusted adult rather than trying to resolve matters on their own.
4. Beware of anonymous, private or disappearing photos, videos and texts
Apps such as Snapchat, Burn Note and Spillit give a false sense of security as noted in, “What social media sites and apps are popular these days?”
Once a photo, video or a text enters cyberspace, it can be captured with a screen shot, camera or video recorder even if it is deleted by the recipient or the sender at any point. Messages and photos may disappear from servers and devices but this does not mean they won’t appear elsewhere. Tech savvy people can track down authors of anonymous posts (Spillit) so overall, there is no guarantee of disappearance or anonymity with any app.
Nothing should be shared or posted that could be a problem if it was shared beyond those it was intended for.
Discuss the many types of online scams that exist and the ways to avoid becoming a victim. Talk about avoiding downloads and links in Phishing emails and remind children that people are not always who they say they are online.
6. Parents and kids on the same social networks
When your kids are old enough to use social media, solicit their input and ask for opinions on the sites they use. If you aren’t on those sites, sign up for them or ask your children to help you sign up. Some kids dislike interacting with parents on social media while others enjoy it. Establishing guidelines for both sides can prevent issues.
7. Rules and consequences for kids and parents too
There should be mutually agreed upon consequences for kids and adults when rules are broken. Parents that embarrass their children on social media are likely to damage relationships so communicating in advance about what is embarrassing is a good idea.
In addition to social media rules, kids need additional rules to follow when using technology. Time limits are wise and confiscating devices temporarily is an appropriate consequence for misuse. Consequences for breaking rules will differ from family to family but they should be clearly defined, agreed upon and enforced.
The topics above are intended for family discussions vs. dictating orders, however, unilateral options for parents are covered in the article that follows this one, Using Parent Power to Protect Kids.
Facilitating positive offline and online relationship between family members is wonderful however keeping kids safe online takes priority, even if it’s at the expense of upsetting them.
Until next time…, Stay Cyber Safe!