Children and young people are spending increasing amounts of time online. It is an opportunity for them to socialize, have fun and learn. However, there are inherent risks associated with it as well. This is why it is very important that you learn how to keep your child safe using social media.

Social networking truly is a global revolution. More than a billion people around the world use it to stay in touch with one another, amuse each other and share information with each other. It is the new email, regular mail and telephone all put into one. Social media, as such, is actually a way of life.

Additionally, they are vital tools in terms of marketing. Businesses use it to spread brand awareness, and also to offer better customer service. Additionally, as the name suggests, it is a form of ‘networking’, allowing businesses to collaborate and deliver better products and services.

By its very nature, however, social networking is risky. When you put one billion people together in one place, there will always be a number of people in there with less than honest intentions. Unfortunately, there is a risk of becoming targeted by a criminal. This risk is particularly substantial for children and young people, who also use social media nowadays, but aren’t as aware yet of the inherent dangers of these platforms. It is vital, therefore, that you, as a parent or carer, are aware of what you can do in order to keep your children safe.

What Are the Risks?

There are a number of clear risks, particularly for children and young people. These include:

  • Disclosing private information
  • Cyberbullying
  • Cyberstalking
  • Accessing content that is not appropriate for a young person’s age.
  • Online grooming
  • Seeing extremist, sexual, racist of violent comments and activities, including hateful attitudes, to which young people should not be exposed.
  • Online radicalization, which tries to convince young people to change their basic ideologies and beliefs.
  • Recrimination or prosecution from positing inappropriate or offensive comments.
  • Phishing emails, which are sent after a young person clicks on links without thinking about what they could mean.
  • Hacking into a social media account, which can now be done with various downloadable tools.
  • Malware infections entering a computer through malicious links and email attachments.
  • Posting online that a home is empty, for instance, due to a vacation, leaving it open to attack from burglars and other criminals. Additionally, if you were to do this and your insurance company saw it, they will not cover you if your home is broken into.

Safe Social Networking

Social networking can be enjoyed safely. The following tips will make sure that your child will not fall victim to the various types of abuse that are out there. It is also very important that you have conversations about online safety with your child. The most vital tips are:

  • Do not fall for peer pressure. Just because other people your child knows (really or virtually) are doing certain things does not mean they have to do the same.
  • Always be careful about posting any information that can be identifying in any posts or on a profile. This includes things like a picture of a home, a phone number, a school’s address, a birthday and so on.
  • Facebook demands that people use their actual name for their profile. For all other types of social media, however, it is important to choose name that can’t help people personally identify someone. A name such as ‘sarah_pennsylvania’, for instance, is not a good idea, even if there are likely to be thousands of Sarahs in Pennsylvania.
  • Have a separate email address with which your child can sign up for social media accounts. That way, if there is ever a reason to close down a social media account, your child only has to create a new email address. There are many providers, like gmail, Yahoo! Mail and Hotmail that allow you to have free email addresses.
  • Make sure passwords are very strong and unique.
  • Have the privacy settings on any social media account set to closed. Make sure that only people that are actually friends through the social media network can view profile information.
  • Teach your child that it is not ok to say things or show images that could embarrass someone in the real world. This is about treating people the way you want to be treated yourself.
  • Make sure that your child does not post offensive or abusive comments, whether these are targeted at individuals or at entire demographic groups.
  • Make your child aware of the fact that other people post about them as well. It is important to check that these posts and comments don’t contain personal information either.
  • If your children are older, explain to them that prospective employers, colleges and universities will often look up someone’s social media profile in order to find out what type of person they are like in the real world. It is important, therefore, to present a professional and decent picture.
  • If you are going on vacation, make sure that your child does not post about this online. This could be an indication for a burglar that there is an empty property around, and they may use this information to target your home.
  • Spend some time with your child going through the ins and outs of the social media network they want to use. Go over the various privacy features and check that the account is secure. Also make sure that your child does not add strangers to their friends or circles.
  • Discuss the risk of phishing and scams with your children. Facebook in particular is home to many different scams that could put your children’s identity at risk and that could infect your machines with malware. These threats are sometimes very difficult to recognize, so make a habit out of looking for new threats together. Also ensure that your children feel comfortable to come to you if they did accidentally fall for a scam. That way, you can work together to make sure that the effects do not spread any further than they need to.
  • Install an excellent antivirus program on your machine and regularly check that it is being kept up to date.

Talk to Your Children

You must also be able to speak to your children about the various dangers that exist online. Do this in such a way that they do not feel patronized by what you are saying. You may have experience of the real world, but your children are probably far more tech savvy than you and they want you to know about that. You must, therefore, have real conversations with your children about the dangers that exist, while being respectful of their own knowledge.

Some parents only allow their children access to social media if they can know the passwords and logins. They then frequently check their child’s activity on the various sites. Whether or not this is beneficial is debatable. It is likely that your children will know how to remove any conversations that they don’t want you to be aware of, and they may feel as if you don’t trust them if you insist on doing that.

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