In an age where technology is no longer a luxury, but a necessity, kids are going online earlier, have smartphones before they hit middle school, and are often more web-savvy than their parents before they’re even out of their pre-teen years. However, with all this access to technology come some serious risks, from your little ones racking up huge charges on online games to connecting with the wrong people online. While it may seem scary, there’s plenty parents can do to keep their kids safe on the internet, particularly when it comes to social media. Before your kids become the next Instagram stars, make sure they’ve got these ground rules down first:
Establish rules: For the parents of millennials, navigating the internet and social media for their kids was completely foreign territory, with many parents having virtually no experience with internet culture at all, making it hard for them to set rules along the way. Fortunately, for most parents with school-aged children today, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram will at least ring a bell, even if Mom or Dad doesn’t use them personally. Instead of discovering that your kids are using social media in a way that’s unsafe and punishing them for it, set up clear ground rules first. A few good ones to start are no friending people you don’t know in person, no sending private information about yourself or your family to others, and no sharing photos that you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see.
Create strict privacy settings: Cut the temptation to explore less-than-safe friendships online by restricting your kiddos’ privacy on social media as much as possible. Set their Instagram and Twitter accounts to private so that they won’t be indexed by search engines, potentially hindering their chances when they’re applying to college, and lock down their Facebook, turning off the chat feature, making sure their profile doesn’t come up in search results, allowing only friends-of-friends to add them, and keeping as little information as possible from popping up for non-friends.
Set limits on photo sharing: There’s no need for your kid to be sharing every photo they take of themselves online, despite what they may tell you. Let your kids know that they can have access to social media, but photo sharing is off-limits. With the exception of a profile picture, don’t let your kids post photos with identifying information about them, or any photos in which they’re in compromising positions. Emphasize the fact that the internet is forever, and even deleted photos may have been screenshotted by others.
Use filtering software: Keep your kids searching and sharing safely by installing filtering software on their computer and any home computers they have access to. Programs like ContentWatch Net Nanny and Kapersky Safe Kids can help you filter out content you don’t want them to see long before they get in trouble.
Let them know you’re looking: Having parents snoop into their social media accounts can feel like a major violation of privacy, but keeping them safe online means the occasional check-in. Long before you allow your kids to set up social media profiles, let them know you’ll be checking in on them periodically and that doing so is a condition of their continued access to the internet. Once that’s been made clear, the occasional digital sweep by a parent won’t feel like an invasive search, but regular maintenance.
Keeping your kids safe doesn’t have to mean keeping them off social media altogether. With a few easy tips, you can make sure your kids are using social media safely while keeping your own fears about the wilds of the great digital unknown at bay.