By: Andrea Eldrige.
From Facebook, to Twitter, to Foursquare, social media sites are everywhere and full of virtual land mines for our teens.
Anything they say can and may be used against them by a bully at school, a college admissions counselor or a future boss. There are numerous ways they’re exposed to the world, from harsh life lessons to predators and scam artists. It’s important for parents to teach them how to navigate social media safely.
Our mom used to say, “Never put anything in writing that you don’t want published on the front page of The New York Times,” and this warning definitely applies to present-day social media. That photo of your teen doing something exceptionally dumb can be used against them: by a schoolmate playing a prank, or worse, school administrators — even the police.
A few tips:
1. Caution them not to post anything that could trace them back to their location offline or allow a criminal to take advantage of them, like their full name, Social Security number, address or phone number.
2. Make sure their screen name does not contain any personal information such as email address or birth date.
3. Remind them that under no circumstances should they post anything sexually oriented about themselves or anyone else.
Just as we teach our kids to be polite members of society, there are social ramifications to not using their manners online. It’s really difficult to convey tone in text, so be especially careful when you’re joking. “Please” and “thank you” (pls and ty if you’re texting) go a long way in electronic communications. They help the recipient feel that you’re not demanding when you make a request.
Also, teach them to avoid the “rant.” No one appreciates being yelled at in the real world, and using bold fonts, lots of exclamation points or all caps is the Internet equivalent.
The best resource we’ve found for parents to help their kids stay safe on Facebook is “A Parents’ Guide to Facebook“. It’s written by the co-directors of ConnectSafely, a nonprofit organization designed for kids, parents and educators to join in a public discussion about online safety. It’s intended to help parents have more meaningful discussions about Facebook, including how to best use it and its built-in protections.
For example, did you know that Facebook has extra protections in place for users between the ages of 13 and 18? That’s one reason it’s important for your child to report her birth date correctly. In this pamphlet, you’ll learn how to gain greater control over your child’s Facebook account without being too intrusive into his privacy.
OnGuardOnline , managed by the Federal Trade Commission in partnership with over a dozen government agencies, is literally a treasure-trove of information. The OnGuard Online Blog has up-to-the-minute articles on everything from preventing victimization by online scammers to teaching your kids how to protect themselves online.
Several videos are laugh-out-loud funny (under the Video and Media tab), designed to engage kids with animation and humor while teaching them about online safety. Check out the hilarious one-minute videos about “phishing” (titled “Phishy Home,” “Phishy Store,” etc.) about criminals trying to obtain personal information to steal your identity.
If you think your teens may be getting themselves into real trouble, trust your instincts. Our primary recommendation is to talk to them first about their experiences. Encourage them to tell you if they feel anxious, uncomfortable or threatened.
We’ve mentioned this product before, but if you feel like you’re not getting the whole story and have exhausted all other options, Spector Pro from SpectorSoft can be a useful tool. Designed to document every keystroke, website visited, email sent and received, chat and IM, and all their social media activities, it runs in “ghost mode” so it’s undetectable by your child. One word of caution: since it’s only installed on your home computer, it’s easily circumvented by accessing the Internet from a mobile device or friend’s computer.
If stalking your kids on Facebook still isn’t keeping them safe, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more tips to protect your kids from social media dangers.