Parenting & Social Media Part 1 — 5 Tips to Keep Your Children Safe

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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.)

  3. 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).