As a social media professional and as parent of a 12 year old girl and 10 year old boy I have a different perspective on the use of social media by my kids than the average parent. I am all too knowledgeable on the pluses of my kids using it and of the risks and dangers.
I know the difference between hype and reality when it comes to my kids’ safety. As with all things, sometimes it’s best that kids learn things on their own and at other times we need protect them. We don’t leave dangerous drugs on the kitchen table when toddlers are around and so we need to approach social media the same way. I’ve prepare my top Five list of things as parents we can do to mitigate any dangers of our kids using social media properties.
- Have the Talk!
From a very young age we teach our children, not to talk to strangers, not to take candy from strangers, don’t get into a stranger’s car, don’t let someone pick you up from school who you don’t know unless we’ve told you ahead of time etc. Yet we don’t carry this concept to online properties like Facebook. Kids, like many adults, want as many friends as they can get (a status symbol) and they are apt to accept just about any friend request. This is where the danger lurks. While pedophiles stalking on Facebook are rare, it does happen and kids need to be made aware of accepting friend requests and talking to people they don’t know personally. All too often (and I’ve seen it) they accept a friend request because the person making the request is a friend of friend.
I’ve simply taught my kids to make sure that person is real and is who they say they are, if they’ve never met them face to face. Kids must check with their established friends on how they know them. If there answer is “I’ve never met them, but they’re friends of someone I sort of know” don’t friend them. It’s that simple.
- Build Trust
This is the most important task you can undertake. While you can monitor your children’s activity, it’s impossible to do it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Make sure that your child is comfortable in letting you know if something is going on that is making them uncomfortable online. Stress to them during the talk (Point 1) that you trust them, but it’s a big scary world out there and that you won’t get mad when tell you something (obviously don’t get mad when they do). Let them know what they should tell you about as well. This should include (but not limited to) if they see other’s doing cyber bulling, making unreasonable request of one of their friends, people they don’t know wanting to meet in person & telling them not to tell anyone etc.
It’s only by developing trust with our kids that we can be included in their social circles when they need us and want us there. This includes them granting access to you to their social apps (friending you on Facebook etc.)
- Automatic Monitoring
Let the Internet work for you. Set up a Google Alert on your child’s name (it helps if the combination of first and last name is reasonably unique) and add a qualifier (school’s name and/or acronym, neighborhood, town, sports team, etc.) as required. You might even need to set-up multiple alerts. This way whenever someone publishes something on-line that is public (the generally covers Facebook posts, public tweets, blogs, etc.) you get a notification and can investigate. You might be surprised what others are saying. If you discover anything that makes you feel uncomfortable have a talk with your child and discuss and agree on an appropriate course of action. It’s only my mutual consent that you can continue to build trust (point 2).
Another tip for monitoring your child’s communication is to ensure that you are bcc’d on every email they receive (relatively easy thing to setup with your email administrator). While many people under the age of 25 are abandoning email, it is still in use and receiving a copy everything that your child gets, is a great safety net. Of course they can simply go and open up a gmail or similar account without your knowledge. An easy way around this is to very early on register a domain for your child or your family (firstname.com, familyname.com, Ifirstname.com, etc.), become the account administrator and then set-up an accordingly cool email address for your child that once in use they won’t want to abandon for a 3rd party email service. I personally like using email@example.com (if it’s available). On several occasions, the kids in my kid’s class were jealous of the personalized email addresses and even refused to believe my kids, a simple email proved them wrong and strengthened my children’s‘ bond to the email address I had setup.
- Protect Yourself Now & In the Future
Teach your child not to publish any photos and thought’s that they won’t want their grandmother seeing or having on display in the main hall of their school or announced on the school‘s PA system. While they might be only sharing it with a good friend online, friends sometimes can’t keep that secret, or for a laugh might make it public and share it. This is great advice for adults as well. The discussion on what to make public can also be part of point 1.
- Don’t Share Too Much
Many parents forget that they are also guilty of divulging information on their kids that perhaps they shouldn’t. If you’re going through a custody battle, if you’re in fear of a child abduction, or just worry about your kids privacy don’t you go and share details of their lives you don’t want public. Some of the mistakes parents make under this category include:
- checking in on apps like foursquare at their kids school and saying picking up XXX
- Tweeting out their kids names, ages and other details (remember bad people can follow you on Twitter)
- Posting personal information on Facebook about your kids and it making public (use your Facebook privacy settings)
- Not reviewing on a regular basis the privacy settings on yours and your child’s social applications. These change regularly and a review of the settings every 30 or 60 days is well worth the 5 to 10 minutes it will take. Remember do you really know everyone personally who is your friend on Facebook or foursquare? Why do you want to share that personal information with strangers?
While I love using social media to share family photos, happenings, stories etc. with family and friends around the world, I do so with knowledge of where that information might end up and regulate myself. I’ve taught my children that as well. If my son is texting friends from his iPod, or my daughter is chatting online they know where to draw the line and always let me know when the people they are communicating with have crossed the line. Then as a parent I can either work with them to resolve the issue with their peers or escalate into a parent to parent chat.
Ultimately as parents we can’t be with our kids a 100% of the time and in full knowledge of everything they do. By implementing these five basic steps, we can go a long way in helping protect them from the real dangers of social media today and their future online identity.
Alan K’necht (@aknecht), the author of “The Last Original Idea – A Cynic’s View of Internet Marketing” (http://www.TheLastOriginalIdea.com) and a founding Partner at Digital Always Media Inc., together with Michelle Stinson Ross (@SocialMichelleR ) , a blogger and novelist, an active social media marketing specialists, they host the successful weekly Twitter Chat #Socialchat which frequently reaches a potential audience size of 800,000 plus.