Kids are inherently social beings. Take a glimpse outside and you’ll see children practicing their social skills and interacting with each other. It’s only natural that they would want to use a social network. After all, their classmates have their own accounts.
Pew Research Center points out that more than 55 percent of American kids ages 12-17 use social media sites. In the UK, 25 percent of kids ages 8-12 have a profile on Facebook despite clear age restrictions. The stats depict that social networking sites are the new playground for kids.
However, there are dangers of using social networking sites that parents and children need to be aware of and address, such as:
Inappropriate content: Kids using Facebook and Twitter may come across shocking content. In March 2013, a video showcasing child pornography was shared 16,000 times and liked by nearly 4,000 users. Shocked users tweeted out their rage, and the news spread like wildfire. It took 8 hours for Facebook’s team to remove the video and all traces of it. The question: how such a video was uploaded without being detected? And what if your kid sees such a video?
Anonymous strangers: You may have heard of the ‘stranger danger’ term, but kids may be threatened by those who are familiar to them. However, social networks make it easy for perpetrators to pose as others, or leave anonymous private messages. Pew Research Center reveals that 32 percent of online teens were contacted by someone with no connection to their social circles, and 7 percent said they felt uncomfortable with the initiated contact.
Social networking stalking: Posting images can reveal a lot of information about what your child’s private life looks like, including the school they attend, what their place looks like, or information about their family. Social networking stalkers may even approach your child and use techniques to lure them into real-life meeting, or steal some private data of your kids to torture them online.
Protecting kids against social networking dangerous
Luckily, parents have a several tools and options to protect their kids from social networking threats and increase security on devices kids use to access social networking sites. Here are some of them:
Configure privacy settings: Most social networks have privacy settings. Ask children what social networks they use, and talk to them about the importance of privacy, both online and offline. Set their personal information to private and explain them that you’re trying to help protect their information. Parents also have the option of purchasing internet security software that scans privacy settings on Twitter, Facebook and other networks to ensure there are no security lapses. Some of these offerings may also offer a secure web browser to ensure safe web surfing for children.
Discuss social media use: Have the conversion about dangerous of using social media sites with your kids early on. Tell them what is appropriate to share online and what isn’t, and most important whom to share the information with. Teach them not to engage in conversations with strangers, especially those older than the kids. It’s also a good idea to teach them about how to report abuse on Facebook and other social networks. Refer them to the Family Safety Center on Facebook, where there is a wealth of advice for parents and children alike.
Keep regular checks: That’s the rule of thumb. If your kids are going to use social media networks, they must allow you in their social circles and you must be diligent in monitoring what they share/post and following their activity. Making kids agree to be followed can be an uphill battle, so try appealing to them by reminding them that what they post online can be seen by anyone. In order to protect their online reputation, they must allow a parent/guardian to monitor their social media activity.